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China’s Interests in the Arctic and the EU’S Arctic Policy: Towards a Proactive EU Foreign Policy?

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Initiated in 2008, the EU’S Arctic policy acknowledges the evolving geo-strategy of the Arctic region and intends to secure the EU’S trade and resource interests as new actors like China enter the Arctic arena. This paper shows that China’s growing assertiveness in the Arctic has impacted upon both EU Arctic policy and EU foreign policy. The new China’s trade interests in the Arctic, in particular the sensitive issue of rare earth elements, have triggered various moves in the EU in terms of trade and cooperation policies. The use of international law gives the EU some leeway to manage legal tensions with China which may still remain in some sectors, and which may also arise in connection with China’s legitimate aspirations in terms of becoming a rule maker as well. On an institutional level, engaging in an ambitious agenda with China also proves that the European External Action Service has gained in efficiency and internal coherence. Finally, this article also shows that the increasing connection of the EU’S Arctic policy with major bilateral relations calls for strengthened EU diplomatic attention in order to respect the principles guiding the EU’S action on the international scene as stated in the Treaty of the European Union, and to avoid a Eurocentric attitude that could undermine the ability of the EU to be a global actor. EU-China cooperation on Arctic issues certainly relies on a strong potential for cooperation, but it also represents additional challenges for the integrated EU Arctic policy that is expected by the end of 2015.


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