China and India in the ‘Receding’ Arctic

Date01 June 2013
Published date01 June 2013
Subject MatterArticles
Sanjay Chaturvedi is Professor of Political Science at Panjab University,
Chandigarh, India and Fellow, India China Institute, The New School, New
York, USA. E-mail:
China and India in
the ‘Receding’ Arctic:
Rhetoric, Routes and
Sanjay Chaturvedi
In popular, academic and official discourses of climate change, the
Circumpolar Arctic—marked by retreating ice, opening sea routes
and intense resource geopolitics—has come to embody the greatest
challenge humanity has ever faced. Both China and India, appropriately
termed as ‘planetary powers’ by some, in view of the global ecologi-
cal impact and fallout of their fast-growing economies, look able and
inclined to be involved in the matters of Arctic governance, but not
without inviting wideranging speculations about their motives and
agendas. Asia’s ‘rise’ (especially of China and India) is likely to impact
the discourse and practices of Arctic governance in a profound man-
ner. The geopolitical rhetoric of Arctic ‘exceptionalism’ appears rather
untenable in the face of transformational multiscalar change, grow-
ing number of stakeholders, uncertainty and risks. The Circumpolar
Arctic with its new access, new opportunities as well as new vulner-
abilities demands and deserves a firm commitment to a dialogic politics
and enlightened multilateral diplomacy to which both India and China
can and should make a meaningful contribution through bilateral and
multilateral cooperation.
Arctic, climate change, geopolitics, India, China, resources, shipping routes
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
17(1) 41–68
2013 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/0973598414524126
42 Sanjay Chaturvedi
Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, 17, 1 (2013): 41–68
Even a cursory glance at the Executive Summary of the 2004 Arctic
Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA 2004) should suffice to reveal the
complex and compelling ways in which global warming is going to
impact the Circumpolar North, with wide-ranging, multiscalar, and
cascading effects. As in many other parts of the globe, there might be
winners and losers in various geopolitical scenarios of Arctic climate
change (Anderson 2009a, 2009b; Ebinger and Zambetakis 2009) but
who would win/lose where, when, and why is far from being clear. On
the other hand, there is substantial scientific evidence to suggest that
an increase in glacial melt and river runoff will result in rising sea
levels and the possible slowing of the world’s ocean current circula-
tion systems (ACIA 2004). One can expect significant changes in ani-
mal species habitat diversity and migration patterns. Vulnerability for
many coastal communities in the Circumpolar Arctic would increase
due to increasing exposure to storms, severe coastal erosion, and
increased permafrost melt disrupting transport, buildings, and other
infrastructure. As access to resources and the volume of marine trans-
portation in the Arctic are enhanced due to reduced sea ice and rela-
tively longer navigation season, contestations over issues of
sovereignty, security, and safety issues too are likely to arise and pose
serious challenges to international cooperation, dialogues, and diplo-
macy (Byers 2010; Dodds 2010).
As the era of ‘global’ climate change and scarcities (Møller 2011;
Randers 2012) unfolds with all its uncertainties in the Arctic and the
rest of the world, both China and India—appropriately termed as
‘planetary powers’ by some, in view of the global ecological impact
and fallout of their fast-growing economies—look able and deter-
mined to act as mapmakers in their own right (Mahbubani 2008). The
fast expanding orbit of their geo-economic imperatives, scientific
pursuits, and geopolitical engagements now encompasses the two
Polar Regions, outer space, and the oceans (including the deep sea-
bed and its resources); but not without inviting wide ranging specula-
tions about their motives and agendas. For example, there appears to
be a growing trend among the ‘realists’ to frame multifaceted India–
China interactions in highly reductionist and sensational terms of a

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