China to build research center for Arctic region

Updated: 2013-06-06 01:41

By WANG ZHENGHUA in Shanghai (China Daily)

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China will expand its study of the Arctic's resources as well as the region's shipping and economic potential, the main Chinese institute for polar research said on Wednesday.

The Polar Research Institute of China said it plans to establish a China-Nordic Arctic Research Center in Shanghai to increase awareness and knowledge of the area and promote cooperation for its sustainable development.

The center, which will be launched in partnership with a number of research institutes in the Nordic region as soon as next year, will also include studies on Arctic climate change and its impact, as well as the policy and legislation related to the area.

The China-Nordic Arctic Research Center has been endorsed by the State Oceanic Administration, and will be funded by the Polar Research Institute of China. It will provide opportunities for Chinese and Nordic scholars to conduct Arctic research through fellowships and scholarships.

"The Arctic is a region where frequent economic activities are taking place," Yang Huigen, head of the Polar Research Institute of China, told China Daily at the first symposium of China-Nordic Arctic cooperation in Shanghai on Wednesday.

The Arctic includes territories of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US. These countries make up the Arctic Council — a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by Arctic governments and the region's indigenous people— and cooperation with these countries is necessary if China wants to take part in resources development in the region, said Yang.

China's move to establish the center comes after it was granted observer status on the Arctic Council, which confers the right to attend council meetings, but not voting rights. The Western world has a preconception that China covets the Arctic as it is rich in oil and gas, Yang said. "But we insist that those recourses are not ours, and China's partnership with Arctic countries in the sector will come naturally as it is part of the widening economic cooperation among countries under the context of globalization."

The program to establish the center has enlisted a number of partners including the Iceland Center for Research, the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Denmark-based Nordic Institute of Asian Studies.

"The key of the program is to gather scholars and professionals, and find a research subject they and we are both interested in," he added.

China is a latecomer to Arctic research, and its studies are mainly focused on natural science topics such as the shrinking of sea ice as well as climate and ecological change.

But in recent years, scientists have found that China is closely linked to climate change in the Arctic — for instance, when sea ice in the Arctic melted to a record low of 3.41 million square km last summer, the biggest snowstorm in 50 years hit Northeast China's Heilongjiang province in the spring.

To a certain extent, extreme weather in China can be predicted by calculating the shrinking size of sea ice in the Arctic, said Zhang Xia , a research fellow at the Polar Research Institute of China.

In mid-May, the Arctic Council accepted China as an observer, along with India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore.

Kim Holmen, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, said on Wednesday that Chinese scientists are welcome to join their global counterparts to study the Arctic and help tackle the problems the region faces.

"Understanding the Arctic is incredibly difficult. We need all the talented people we can get to work with Arctic problems," he said.

Holmen also confirmed the connection between the climate in Asia and developments in the Arctic. "The climate system is connected throughout the globe so it is important for China to know and understand what is happening in the Arctic and how it influences China directly."

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