On May 15, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and the foreign ministers of the six other Arctic states and decide whether China is welcome in the region.
The Arctic states have tried to agree on China’s proper role in the Arctic for more than four years. They have made no progress so far and there is no certain outcome for the upcoming summit in Kiruna, a mining town in northern Sweden.
China insists that it has solid and legitimate interests in the region even if it is not an Arctic state. Chinese scholars and diplomats recently began designating China a "near-Arctic" state, somewhat to the frustration of Arctic nations. The eight members of the Arctic Council (AC) very much claim to be the only real Arctic states because they hold territory and territorial waters within the region and therefore have certain legal rights.
Chinas has diplomatically but with insistence repeated its desire to have a seat as permanent observer in the council. The AC is the only political body encompassing all Arctic states and is rapidly gaining influence on the politics of the region ; on the future of vast reserves of oil, gas and minerals in the Arctic ; and on strategic shipping routes.
We do not know precisely who is actively against China’s wish for more influence in the region. The council meets behind closed doors and formal decisions are made through consensus. No voting takes place and little information is provided to the public. Tough discussions like that on China’s role will not take place in the actual council, but in quiet exchanges between key diplomats and ministers.
Over recent years, however, persistent reports have clarified that Russia has been actively blocking China’s bid for enhanced status. Russia fears, among other factors, that China will try to influence the drawing of borders in the Arctic Ocean, where it is still not clear which states own what.