ArcGov Regional

WP II – Regional governance

Looking at Arctic-specific regional institutions, we will focus on what many see as the foremost regional governance mechanism in the Arctic, namely the Arctic Council (AC), as well as the most prominent among recent mechanisms, the Central Arctic Ocean fisheries agreement.

In 1996 when the AC was formally established, general interest in the Arctic was limited. In the AC’s first years, from 1996 to the mid-2000s, much work centered on mapping and monitoring environmental pollution in the Arctic. Since then, the AC has developed from a forum for discussing environmental issues into one that deals with a wide range of questions with local, regional, and global ramifications.

Its six Working Groups (WG) are pivotal to the functioning of the Council: they are compilers of scientific knowledge, charged with identifying and analyzing Arctic challenges but also serve as norm-promoters and capacity-raisers.

Of all the newcomers to the AC observer list, China has been among the most active and vocal, particularly concerning its participation in specific WGs. How has China influenced the workings of these groups specifically, and the AC more generally? What has been the effect of this engagement?

Today there are no commercial fisheries in the high seas of the Central Arctic Ocean, with large parts of the region covered by year-round ice. However, this may change as the annual sea-ice continues to diminish. Fish stocks are also moving further north, tailed by vessels fishing for what is the most abundant of Arctic resources.

In 2018, the five Arctic coastal states, plus China, South Korea, Japan, Iceland, and the EU, signed a legally binding agreement to prevent unregulated fishing and to promote scientific investigations in the high seas segment of the Central Arctic Ocean. This area covers 2.8 million square kilometers of ocean, slightly larger than the Mediterranean Sea.

In these negotiations, China was a crucial partner, with what some reckon is the largest fishing fleet in the world (Doyle, 2018). Chinese fishing efforts have frequently been criticized for unsustainable practices, although, in the case of the Arctic, the country joined in setting up a new precautionary governance mechanism. What was the role of China in these negotiations and what was its influence? What are the effects of China’s engagement on the current mechanisms established through the 2018 Agreement?