By Chen Yitong
Student Representative of Board of Governors of UArctic, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Polar and Deep Ocean Development Centre, Koguan Law School, Shanghai Jiao Tong University
Just two weeks ago, I was checking the temperature of Rovaniemi in Finland, which was the destination of my forthcoming trip. It was to be around -3°C during that week. I laughed, “Wow, it’s not so cold in the Arctic!”
I continued my regular habit of reading news on the Arctic and saw that the town of Mohe, in northernmost China, was as cold as -57°C in mid-November. It was a really interesting coincidence and contrast at that moment, reminding me that some places in China are sometimes colder than the Arctic.
China is deeply affected by climate change, and at the same time becoming the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. As the early alarm for global climate change, the Arctic is currently suffering the most dramatic warming on the globe. Linkages between China and the Arctic have increased in recent years, especially after China became an observer of the Arctic Council. Many policymakers and experts in China have interests in climate change, scientific research, maritime shipping in the Arctic, for example. However, even with that very few ordinary Chinese people have much knowledge about the Arctic.
During the years of my Arctic research, I’ve also been observing the relationship between the Arctic and China, through attending international conferences and academic communication with Arctic scholars and members. Since 2013 when China became an observer at the Arctic Council, I delightfully discovered that the opinions on the Arctic from Chinese media and cyber citizens were not as shallow anymore. Many officials and scholars talked about respect, responsibility, environmental protection and international collaboration. In the meantime, several scholars from Arctic countries told me they used to have much doubt and suspicion towards China’s attitude and activities in the Arctic, but they have changed their mind in recent years. They even sincerely told me they think the central government should clearly announce China’s Arctic policy or publish a paper as soon as possible, which would much more transparently clarify China’s attitude to the Arctic with positive effect.
I see the Arctic as a place for the miraculous. No other international organization besides the Arctic Council recognizes indigenous people as permanent participants. Outside the Arctic, I see no region with so many soft laws working effectively and being obeyed by so many countries. I also witness the transformation from soft into “hard” laws, with binding agreements on oil spills and search and rescue. While the phenomenon of fragmentation of international law obviously occurs in the Arctic, we see new traditions and innovations in international law and governance. With the Arctic Council and its parallel frameworks like UNCLOS I believe the Arctic miracle will continue.