Express News Service

BENGALURU: Scientists have warned of China’s growing strategic interests in the Arctic, mainly for its gas, oil, rare earths and access to shipping route, which are likely to affect India’s security and climate. China is a net importer of petroleum products and consumes 23 per cent of global energy consumption and has invested substantially in the energy sector for creating an alternate source of petroleum in the Arctic.

The Arctic has about 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 per cent of oil reserves. The region, which has been witnessing changes in its environment due to global warming, has gained immense global attention for scientific, environment, geo-politics and economic reasons.

India and China, though non-Arctic states, have been active in the Arctic region and were granted ‘observer’ status in the Arctic Council, a forum of all Arctic nations, in 2013.

“While India’s prime interest in the Arctic is scientific, as the changing climate can affect its monsoon pattern and impact its food security, China’s main interest is strategic and economic development of the Arctic as well as climate change, and has clear policy on these aspects,” said the director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Dr Shailesh Nayak.

“China is keen to develop the northern Arctic Sea Passage as a shipping route and related infrastructure for economic considerations, as evidenced by its participation in the Arctic Economic Council and Arctic Circle forum,” he added. 

Arctic route gives China military edge, says expert

“The route also gives a military advantage to China, compared to politically unstable regions such as the Gulf of Eden, the Persian Gulf, the Malacca Strait and South China Sea. In case of blockade of the Indian Ocean, the Arctic route provides China accessibility to its energy resources,” Dr Nayak pointed out.

The commercialisation of the polar regions will play an important role in modulating global weather and climate. “It has been reported by many researchers that the changes in the Arctic are likely to affect the Asian monsoons and viceversa. Not just the Arctic; China has increased funding to carry out research on impact of climate change on the Tibet plateau which is likely to face similar changes as the Arctic,” he warned.

“Tibet, having large ice fields, snow-covered mountains and permafrost, is facing increased melting and focus of research is on interaction between ice and snow with the atmosphere, water, ecosystem, land surface and anthropogenic activities,” said Dr Nayak.

“The environmental cost of such degradation, in terms of extreme weather, lower agricultural production, etc., is likely to be borne mainly by developing countries,” he added. The scientist explained that climate change and Arctic Oscillation have changed rainfall patterns, leading to floods and droughts.

“Such events have a negative impact on agriculture and long-term food security. Persistent droughts can also lead to increased desertification and is an area of concern for developing countries like India. We need a comprehensive strategy and policy, given our dependence on the monsoon for ensuring food security. India also needs to develop alternate supply for oil and gas, access to critical metals and rare earths as well as new developing shipping routes,” said Dr Nayak.