Russia and China in the Arctic: Real or Alleged Disagreements?

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2016-60-2-63-71

A. Zagorskii, Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation (

Abstract. The article concentrates on two issues articulated by Xu Guangmiao in her article “China's Arctic Interests and Policy: History, Legal Ground and Implementation” published in the same issue of the Journal: Arctic Governance (and particularly the applicability of the "Common Heritage of the Mankind in the Arctic" concept), as well as the concept of the Northern Sea Route “internationalization” based on the navigation freedom principle. Both issues are considered controversial in Russia–China relations. In addressing those issues, the author seeks to separate real and alleged divergences between the two countries. He argues that apparent differences in their particular approaches do not reflect any fundamental divergences and can be transcended if handled pragmatically, with recognition of the sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdictions of coastal states, as well as of the non-Arctic states' rights and responsibilities under the Law of the Sea. In particular, the author argues that there is no controversy surrounding China’s expectation that an Area of the Common Heritage of the Mankind would occur in the central part of the Arctic Ocean as long as the process of the continental shelf outer limits setting by the coastal states in the Arctic Ocean takes place within the procedures established by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Similarly, China accepts the regulation of vessels traffic alongside the Northern Sea Route based on the Article 234 of the Convention, and would not be able to claim the freedom of transit passage through the NSR straits unless it joined the U.S. claim that the straight baselines drawn by Russia (and Canada) effectively including those straits into their internal sea waters violate the provisions of the Convention. So far, China does not. And as long as the NSR water area remains ice-covered for most of the year, this issue remains of theoretical rather than of practical importance. 

Keywords: Russia, China, Arctic, continental shelf, common heritage of the mankind, Northern Sea Route, freedom of navigation 

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For citation:
Zagorskii A. Russia and China in the Arctic: Real or Alleged Disagreements?. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2016, vol. 60, no. 2, pp. 63-71.

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