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Belt & Road Sheds New Light on North Pole Environment Safety Cooperation

The Arctic Ocean Plan under the B&R stresses a new form of green development to address conflict between commercial interests and ecological protection

By Xu Mouquan Updated Oct.12

The current international cooperation over North Pole environmental safety is mired in dilemmas, namely, unsymmetrical cooperation relations – countries adjoining the North Pole having greater say than others, as well as underdeveloped, overall loose cooperation patterns and outdated, geopolitics-oriented cooperation concepts.

The Arctic Ocean Plan under the Belt & Road Initiative released in June 2017 includes North Pole sea routes as well as surrounding areas in the Initiative, thus introducing a new approach to the cooperation, according to an academic paper in Chinese journal Theory and Reform.

First, the green development concept under the B&R Initiative – stressing environmental protection in commercial development while helping the involved parties prosper through protecting the ecology – can help address the conflict between safety and development. This is a deep-seated problem that prevents cooperation from deepening, according to Ding Huang, a professor from the School of Political Science and Public Administration, Wuhan University, and Ma Hao, a doctoral candidate from the same university, the paper's two authors.  

Secondly, institutional tools can provide safeguards for cooperative behaviors in collective actions, so international cooperation can take reference from the cooperative governance approach initiated by the B&R. Different from the existing governance mechanisms over North Pole environmental safety, cooperative governance won’t necessarily require all parties to have the same interests and objectives, but will rely more on institutional tools to achieve equality and balance in cooperation.   

The North Pole environmental issue is a global issue that requires the concerted efforts of all countries, argued Ding and Ma. To build an identity over North Pole environmental safety cooperation around the “community” idea proposed by the B&R helps cast aside the past aspect of competition in cooperation. Different parties must see the cooperation first as a matter that concerns all our interests, and that will eventually affect our shared destiny, they said.    

They also proposed that China should start from the inside, that is clarifying its national strategies and understanding that its rights and interests in the matter concern mainly environmental protection and scientific research and on that basis, reasonably expanding resources and seaway interests. Internationally, China must find its role in participating in international cooperation over the issue and choose a proper status to win wide approval globally.