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Keynote Speech by Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming at the China Country Session of the Third Arctic Circle Assembly

2015/10/17

China in the Arctic: Practices and Policies

Your Excellency President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Chinese delegation is honored to hold this country session during the third Arctic Circle Assembly. With the theme "China's contribution: respect, cooperation and win-win", the session aims to present a full picture of China's Arctic-related practices and policies, help the world better understand China's participation in the Arctic affairs and promote mutual trust and cooperation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

China started to turn its eyes to the Arctic as early as 90 years ago. In 1925, it acceded to the Svalbard Treaty, which marked the beginning of China's participation in Arctic affairs. Since the 1990s, China's involvement in Arctic activities has been expanding both in depth and breadth.

In the area of scientific research, China has successfully conducted six scientific expeditions and set up the Arctic Yellow River Station, thus establishing a basic Arctic observation system. For years, China has been an active player in Arctic scientific research and cooperation. It joined the International Arctic Science Committee in 1996. The Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon has taken foreign experts on quite a number of Arctic expeditions. Chinese experts have also been active in the research projects of several working groups under the Arctic Council. At present, China's activities in the Arctic mainly focus on scientific research.

In the area of environmental protection, China has acceded to and earnestly implemented such international treaties as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is the first developing country to introduce the National Climate Change Program. And environmental protection has always been high on the agenda of China's work related to the Arctic.

In the area of shipping, China has been involved in formulating the Polar Code by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in a constructive manner. Chinese merchant ships are exploring the possibility of taking the Arctic sea routes. China pays close attention to the potential major impact of those sea routes on global shipping and trade, and is ready to participate in the relevant work in a cooperative and practical manner.

Regarding the development of Arctic resources, China started rather late in this area with only a few Chinese businesses joining relevant programs through partnership with foreign companies. China supports proper and orderly development of the Arctic. At the same time, relevant activities should be pursued in accordance with international rules and domestic laws of Arctic countries, with due respect to the rights and concerns of the indigenous population, and in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner.

With respect to the indigenous community in the Arctic region, China respects their traditions and culture and take seriously their concerns and needs. In 2013, China hosted the fifth World Reindeer Herders Congress. Going forward, China will continue to make its contribution to the indigenous community through appropriate programs. It will provide financing support to relevant fund to support the capacity building of the indigenous people.

What has happened shows that China is a constructive participant in and partner of cooperation in Arctic affairs. Going forward, China is willing and able to make even greater contribution to the sustainable development of the Arctic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Geographically speaking, China is a "near-Arctic state". The changing natural environment and resources exploration of the Arctic have direct impact on China's climate, environment, agriculture, shipping, trade as well as social and economic development. Therefore, China is a major stakeholder in the Arctic. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi states in the video message, "China's participation in Arctic affairs has always been guided by three principles: respect, cooperation and win-win". On such basis, China insists on six specific policies regarding Arctic affairs.

First, further explore and understand the Arctic. With its unique geographic location and natural environment, the Arctic has great scientific value as an indicator of global climate change and a "laboratory" for global scientific research. As of today, mankind's exploration and understanding of the Arctic is still limited. This makes it necessary for governments, social organizations, academia and business community to work together, further strengthen cooperation, and explore and understand the Arctic in a comprehensive way. This will help lay a solid foundation for the better protection and utilization of the Arctic.

Second, protect and rationally use the Arctic. The Arctic enjoys great potential as a shipping route and with its rich resources. At the same time, its ecosystem is fragile. Therefore we must strike a balance between protection and utilization, protecting its ecosystem from irreversible damage while exploring the shipping routes and resources to an extent reasonable and in an orderly manner.

Third, respect the inherent rights of Arctic countries and the indigenous people. The territorial sovereignty over the Arctic continent and islands belong to the Arctic states. They enjoy territorial seas, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves in the Arctic. The indigenous people account for one fifth of the Arctic population and have unique cultural traditions and lifestyles. Countries have the obligation to respect and uphold the sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Arctic countries, respect the traditions and culture of the Arctic indigenous people, and protect the natural environment and resources they live on.

Fourth, respect the rights of non-Arctic countries and the overall interests of the international community. The Arctic seas include high seas and international sea-bed areas. Non-Arctic countries have the rights to conduct scientific research, navigation and exploration in the Arctic region under international law, and these rights should be respected and upheld. The international community must work together to protect and utilize the Arctic, and in particular to address such global issues as climate change, ecology, environmental protection and shipping. At the same time, the overall interests of the international community in the Arctic should be respected.

Fifth, build a multi-tiered Arctic cooperation framework for win-win results. As the Arctic bears on human survival and development, countries share common responsibilities for the Arctic. The challenges in the Arctic require joint contribution of all stakeholders, including the expertise, technology, capital and market that non-Arctic countries may offer. China proposes that all sides further strengthen communication and coordination to build a cooperation framework at the global, regional and national levels, expand channels for governmental and non-governmental cooperation and seek win-win results through cooperation.

Sixth, uphold the Arctic governance system based on existing international law. The United Nations Charter, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Svalbard Treaty and other international instruments provide the basic legal framework for addressing Arctic issues, hence Arctic and non-Arctic countries are entitled to their rights and also shoulder obligations according to law. The rule-based Arctic governance system is working very well. China supports improving Arctic governance under the existing framework of international law, recognizes the important status of the Arctic Council in Arctic governance, and supports the IMO and other international platforms in playing an active role in Arctic governance.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The future of the Arctic concerns not only the well-being of the Arctic countries and people, but also the overall interests of the entire international community. In this increasingly globalized world, it is all the more important for parties to jointly explore, understand and utilize the Arctic. As a developing country, China will continue to advocate respect, cooperation and win-win results, step up exchange and mutual learning, and work together with others to build an Arctic that enjoys peace, stability, a sound ecosystem and sustainable development.

Thank you.

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