Edy Wong spoke at this year’s Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference. He believes China’s Arctic policy presents an opportunity for the North. A business expert believes China’s ambitious Arctic strategy could be an opportunity for Canada’s North.
In January, China released a policy document referring to itself as a "near-Arctic state" and detailing its plans for a "Polar Silk Road" that would develop infrastructure along Arctic shipping routes, which are expected to open up with increased global warming.
Edy Wong is an associate dean at the Alberta School of Business and sits on the board of the China Offshore Oil Engineering Company in Canada. Before speaking to the Arctic Indigenous Investment Conference in Yellowknife on Aug. 9, he told the CBC that China’s interest in the Arctic could be a chance to raise money for pricey infrastructure.
"When we look at the North, the emphasis of the ‘Silk Road’ on infrastructure is a very important selling point," said Wong.
Closer relations with China could also create a "ready market" for Canadian natural-resource exports, said Wong, who has also consulted for Chinese companies. Polar Silk Road ‘mostly focused on the Russian Arctic’
China’s policy document, released by the State Council Information Office, also said the country is looking at developing natural resources and fisheries in the polar region, and is interested in increasing Arctic tourism. Adam Lajeunesse is a historian, international relations expert and assistant professor at St. Francis Xavier University. (Courtesy of Adam Lajeunesse) Adam Lajeunesse, an associate professor at St. Francis Xavier University who specializes in Arctic marine security, told the CBC that questions about Chinese companies investing in Canada are mostly hypothetical, because the Chinese ‘Polar Silk Road’ is mostly focused on the Russian Arctic.
Chinese companies have invested tens of billions of dollars in Russia, including in natural gas, Lajeunesse said.
Chinese investment in northern Canada has included stakes in mineral development in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut’s Izok Lake project, but Lajeunesse calls it comparatively "minimal."
"I think the vision for the Canadian Arctic, if they have one, is much more long term," he said. Courting opportunities
Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann says China’s polar policy is something his department keeps a close eye on. In 2015, the Government of the Northwest Territories created a China Strategy and Action Plan that looks at how the territory could promote investment, tourism, and luxury goods with the nation.
He hopes pressure to get China off coal could leave the country interested in the territory’s natural gas reserves. Also, he hopes the area’s cobalt reserves could be of interest.
"Metal needs are always changing," he said.
"We’re starting to see more of a focus not just on traditional mining but also on technology metals." Questions about sovereignty
Lajeunesse said he thinks courting Chinese investment is a good idea, but added it raises concerns about security for some critics.
He said Canada should be aware of the relationship the Chinese government has with its state-owned companies.
If major investments are made in Canada’s North by companies where China holds a significant interest, "it is a point of leverage" that China could potentially use to influence domestic policy, according to Lajeunesse.Schumann said courting Chinese investment means balancing security concerns with a desire to bring money into the territory."You’ve got to remember, these guys have all the money," he said."We’ve got to pay attention to what they’re doing — but it’s got to line up with, not just what the Northwest Territories, but what Canada wants."
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