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China as the Guardian of the International Seabed Area in the Central Arctic Ocean

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China has been engaging more actively in the Arctic, as echoed by the Arctic Council’s admittance of China as a permanent observer in May 2013. China’s interest in the Arctic can to a large extent be explained by climate change shrinking the ice cover of the Arctic Ocean, which has sparked interest with respect to possible exploitation of natural resources and new shipping routes. One aspect of the possible exploitation of natural resources concerns the International Seabed Area. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s policy paper on China’s Arctic aspirations stated that “many Chinese scholars believe that UNCLOS does not entirely safeguard China’s perceived Arctic interests” concerning the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. One scholar noted that “[i]f the Arctic states succeed in their claims to extend their outer continental shelves, the international community’s and China’s right to fairly benefit from Arctic resources will be weakened”.This article asks whether China can act as a watchdog against excessive continental shelf claims beyond 200 nautical miles by the littoral states and shield the idea of the common heritage of mankind, as enshrined in the Area. More precisely, the article will ask whether China can bring a case before an international court or tribunal against one of the littoral states if it establishes the outer limits of the extended continental shelf beyond what they are entitled to according to UNCLOS.


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