China can influence Arctic Council agenda: Danish minister Lidegaard

Danish foreign minister says talks on development of region to be led by countries with territory there, but participation of others is welcome

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 6:39am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 9:28am

China could influence the formulation of a multilateral framework on the development of the Arctic as it increased its presence in the region, a senior Danish official said.

Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said negotiations concerning the development of the Arctic would mainly be directed by countries that hold territory in the region but that the participation of other nations was welcome.

"It is crucial that whatever happens in the Arctic region that we obey international law," Lidegaard said on the sidelines of an official visit to China. "I would expect China to have a strong position in that regard."

The Danish delegation is being led by Queen Margrethe.

China lobbied heavily to be granted observer status on the Arctic Council. Its involvement in the region increased last year when it gained that status.

The members of the council are Denmark, the US, Russia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden.

Lidegaard said the Arctic Council, the region's governing body whose membership comprises eight nations with Arctic territory, was in its developmental phase.

Denmark wants a multilateral framework to address various issues facing the region, with an emphasis on climate change and shipping.

Lidegaard is in favour of inclusiveness, with "as many countries as possible represented" in the body.

Some Chinese academics describe China as a "near-Arctic" state.

Relations with Nordic states have become more important to Beijing amid concerns about global warming and China's increased energy demands. The Arctic is rich in natural resources, including hydrocarbons, fishing grounds and minerals.

New shippings routes are opening as the Arctic icecap melts due to climate change, reducing transport times to Europe, a major Chinese trading partner.

Lidegaard said more expeditions to the region would be launched when conditions were optimal.

He said he expected China to have a "big influence" on the shape of the framework.

Wang Chuanxing, deputy director of the Centre for Polar and Oceanic Studies at Tongji University, said China could contribute to scientific exploration in the region and take part in the formulation of rules governing the use of shipping lanes. "Issues like fees for using the [shipping] lanes had to be dealt with" before the routes were opened to commercial vessels, Wang said. "The economic value of the lanes will diminish if fees are too high."

China could influence the establishment of the "norms and code of conduct" for the region, he added.

Wang said Arctic countries were stepping up co-operation with China as they looked to boost the economic development of the region.

The Danish delegation arrived in China on Thursday. It has inked more than 30 agreements with China on co-operation in tourism, investment, renewable energy, food safety, and shipbuilding.