China to exploit global warming for Arctic mineral riches

Cash-flush China is intent on seizing its share of the oil and mineral bounty made available by the melting of the Arctic ice cap.

Despite the environmental upheaval and disaster that global warming threatens to unleash, the heating of the earth's atmosphere could bring one distinct benefit to human society. Vast deposits of oil, iron ore and rare earth metals have now been made accessible by the melting of the Arctic ice cap.

Leading international players are now vying for their share of this freshly accessible resource bounty, with China amongst the most aggressive and effective in shoring up its stake.

Although China is absent from the eight country Arctic Council which is responsible for policy governing the North Pole, according to East Asia specialist Linda Jakobson in the New York Times the East Asian giant is now pushing hard for permanent observer status.

China contends that it is a "near Arctic state" despite lacking any formal claims to any of its territory, arguing that the Arctic is "the inherited wealth of all humankind."

Despite competing bids from the EU, South Korea and Japan, China possesses the pivotal advantage of the trove of foreign reserves reaped by its Goliath export sector, enabling it to heavily outspend its peers. The EU and Japan remain severely hampered by onerous debt, while South Korea is too small to be a viable competitor despite its relatively high per capita wealth.

According to the New York Times China is now using investment spending to obtain influence in Iceland and Greenland, deploying a strategy which already has a track record of established success in the African continent and Latin America.

China strategy's has achieved some preliminary headway. The Scandinavian nations of Iceland, Denmark and Sweden all now openly support China's bid for observer status on the Arctic Council.

Despite this initial success, China's effort to shore up influence over the Arctic has already triggered concern and concerted response within the international community, especially given the country's recent bout of brinksmanship with the Japanese over the tiny Diaoyu/Senkaku archipelago in the Pacific.

EU vice president Antonio Tajani, in a bid to counter the influence China has obtained with investment largesse, recently visited Greenland as part of what Tajani himself referred to as a "raw mineral diplomacy" undertaking.

Tajani is offering hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid to Greenland contingent on the thinly populated island guaranteeing it will not provide China with exclusive access to its rare earth metals.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak have also made their first visits to the isle in the past year and a half, while Thomas R. Nides, US deputy secretary of state for management and resources has stated explicitly that the Arctic is becoming a "new frontier in our foreign policy."

Given China's demonstrable willingness to push the envelope and inflame popular sentiment over territorial disputes with its neighbors, as shown recently by its acrimonious stoush with Japan over a clutch of arid rocks, the Arctic has the potential become an additional flash point for future international conflict.