Canada Must Prepare to Face China in the Arctic
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is making his seventh annual Arctic tour this week. Good. He’s taken the most sustained interest in the region of any Canadian leader since John Diefenbaker. Canada’s future is in large measure tied to what happens in the Far North.
That point could not have been driven home more forcefully than with the announcement last week that the icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, had become the first Chinese ship to cross the Arctic Ocean from west to east on the Northern Sea Route along the coast of Russia.
The voyage underscored China’s effort to extend its reach to an area rich in oil and gas deposits, fishing grounds, and the potential to be a major commercial shipping route.
Such realities pose a challenge to Canada’s claims of Arctic sovereignty. Indeed, the Arctic is beginning to emerge as a 21st century update on the Great Game geo-strategies of the 19th century when the Russian and British Empires engaged in a tug of war over control of the “world-island” of Eurasia. “Who rules the World Island commands the World,” British strategist Halford Mackinder wrote a century ago.
We see something similar today in the High Arctic. Russia, the United States, Canada and other northern nations are jostling for power and influence in the region. And now China, with its burgeoning economy and expanding military, wants to play the Great Game.