Climate change has started to show its undeniable effects in global geopolitics. Its first consequences are seen in both polar continents, as their ice caps are increasingly melting. The United States, China and Russia are justling for influence in the Arctic, while the Antarctic has begun to experience similar characteristics, with the additional involvement of other European and Latin American powers.
The growing access to the Arctic ocean has transformed the region into a front of geopolitical tension because of its value as a commercial route and its natural resources. The Arctic has around 13 percent of non explored oil reserves, 30 percent of gas, and an abundance of uranium, minerals, gold, and diamonds. Greenland possesses the largest reserves of minerals outside China needed for the production of batteries and phones. For China itself, it is an important source of minerals and for the establishment of a route towards the United States. China seeks to develop a polar silk road as part of its global program in the construction of railways, ports, and other works in dozens of countries.
While mining in Greenland has high costs due to the environment, these can be reduced as the ice caps melt. This allows demand for potential buyers. From a strategic point of view, Greenland forms part of what the United States considers a crucial path for naval operations in the Arctic and the North Atlantic. It is also important because of its proximity to the United States. For these reasons the former U.S. secretary of defense, Gen. James Mattis, retired pressured Denmark to reject Chinese financial investments into three commercial airports in Greenland.
China uses its Belt and Road initiative as a debt trap, investing in regions to create debts that cannot be repaid. In exchange, Beijing steals strategic assets. In this manner, China has acquired strategic assets like a port in Sri Lanka. It is China’s belief that the polar regions will contribute to its development even though they are located far from them. Beijing, therefore, plans to emulate its actions in the South China Sea for the Arctic and Antarctic. In the South China sea, it slowly invaded disputed areas, establishing infrastructure and avoiding conflict. In this way, it, therefore, expanded its economic and military capacities, as well as its interests and sovereignty.
Beijing is planning the construction of submarines to operate in the arctic and it has examined how to build submarines capable of surfacing out of the ice caps. The Chinese icebreaking vessel Xue Long II was sent to the thirty-sixth Antarctic mission of China to supply the scientific base of Zhonstan, one of the four which China maintains in the area. This was the first time that type of Chinese vessel arrived in the Antarctic, demonstrating Beijing’s growing interest to consolidate its presence. This natural resources-rich region has been disputed by numerous countries, although litigations have been practically frozen since 1961 by the Treaty of the Antarctic. China has therefore forced itself into a complex system of relations, having launched its first expedition only in 1983. In comparison, the countries that have been historically connected to the region like Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Norway, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have undertaken missions since the nineteenth century, and the seven territorial claims date to the first part of the twentieth century.
China’s relations with Latin America cannot be separated from its ambitions in the Antarctic and will be fundamental for its expansionism in the years to come. In the 1990s, as military dictatorships were falling in Latin America, President Bill Clinton sought to promote neoliberalism in the region. But the failure of this policy and the rise of local nationalistic leftists left the United States with few friends in Latin America. After the financial crisis of 2008, China took advantage of the economic conditions in Latin America to expand their presence. Washington’s policies under President Donald Trump toward Latin America have allowed China to continue to consolidate itself in the continent.
Aside from its wealth in natural resources and its potential to supply Chinese markets with commodities, Latin America has a strategic significance. Since Washington has a network of alliances neutralizing Beijing’s expansionism in the Pacific, China’s aim is to ship its influence to the Western hemisphere. This…
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