Rovaniemi, Finland -- the arctic is melting, and China is seizing the opportunity to expand its influence to the north.
For China, melting ice offers two potential benefits: new sources of energy and faster shipping routes across the north of the world. For these purposes, China is cultivating a deeper relationship with Russia.
3,000 miles from home, Chinese workers have been drilling for gas beneath the icy waters of the kara sea off Russia's northern coast. For the past five years, Chinese cargo ships have been tiptoing through ice-filled waters off the Russian coast every summer -- a new route Beijing officials like to call the polar silk road. Chinese shipbuilders recently launched the country's second icebreaker, the xuelong 2, in Shanghai.
Aleksi Harkonen, Finland's ambassador for arctic affairs, said China's ambitions in the arctic were the same as those elsewhere. "China is seeking influence around the world," he said, "including in the arctic."
The sino-russian partnership advances both countries' agendas in the region, at least for now. The partnership also comes against a backdrop of escalating hostility between China and the United States over trade, territorial claims and espionage allegations.
Tensions between China and the United States are spreading to the arctic.
In April, the pentagon included an arctic section for the first time in its annual report to congress on China's military power, warning of China's growing presence in the region, including the risk of sending nuclear submarines there in the future.
At a meeting of foreign ministers in rovaniemi, a few miles south of the Arctic Circle, secretary of state Mike Pompeo this month attacked what he called China's "aggressive approach" in the region and pointed to Beijing's behavior elsewhere in the world.
Many delegates took his remarks seriously. Analysts who follow China's activities in the arctic say Mr. Pompeo is exaggerating the nature of China's activities in the north. China has no military presence or territorial claims in the arctic. Its activities are currently limited to business and science.
But Beijing has many strategic benefits to gain from a warming arctic, and it is playing the long game. China has both the money and the ambition, and it can do so.
China is trying to put money into almost every country in the arctic. It has invested billions of dollars to extract energy from beneath the permafrost in Russia's northern yamal peninsula. China is working with Gazprom to develop gas in Russian waters. It is exploring for minerals in Greenland. China's telecoms giants are keen to team up with a Finnish company that wants to lay a huge new undersea Internet cable linking northern Europe and Asia.
China's approach to the arctic is not entirely new. Six years ago, China struck a free trade deal with Iceland, providing a huge market for one of the small country's main exports: fish. A Chinese company had proposed a partnership with Greenland to rebuild the airport, prompting Denmark to step in and fund the project. Another Chinese company proposed building a port for Sweden but failed because of diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Arctic countries cannot say no to investment. It's obvious, said Finnish diplomat herkkonen. "We want to make sure we know what China wants."
Moreover, Chinese ships are sailing in the north sea. State-owned cosco has sent cargo ships across the arctic several times in the past five years and plans more voyages this summer. At the arctic BBS in Shanghai recently, a company official said the route through the arctic shortened the journey from Asia to Europe by 10 days compared with routes across the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.
While the north sea route is still a difficult one to navigate, climate change is making it more navigable in a year. The arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, and the average extent of arctic sea Ice fell to a new low in April, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
尽管北海的航线仍是一条很难航行的通道，但气候变化正在让这条航道的一年中可航行时间变得更长。据美国国家冰雪数据中心(National Snow and Ice Data Center)，北极地区变暖的速度是全球平均速度的两倍，今年4月北极海冰的平均范围降到了新低。
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, China is partnering with Russia, the region's leading expansionist power, which sees the arctic as the key to its future wealth and power.
It is an increasingly important relationship for China and Russia. Russia needs Chinese investment to exploit natural resources beneath the permafrost and turn its long arctic coastline into money, especially after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and the United States imposed sanctions.
So Russia's old wariness about competition in the arctic has become a new openness to China.
Although Russia and China could have been over the arctic resources and the influence of the natural rivals, but they have begun to cooperation, they know that only cooperate, can conquer the west, Washington's energy experts rigas agni, lattice (Agnia Grigas), says she recently wrote a book about gas and geopolitics. "China's energy needs and Russia's economic dependence on fossil fuel exports depend on it."
President Vladimir Putin of Russia has met President xi jinping of China more often than any other foreign leader. Mr. Putin himself is personally courting Chinese energy and transportation infrastructure companies for investment in the development of Russia's vast arctic region.
In April, Mr Putin, together with Mr Xi, suggested in Beijing that the thawing of the north sea routes in Russian waters should be linked to China's huge infrastructure projects. Mr. Putin said it would create a 'competitive global route' linking much of Asia to Europe.
China has provided crucial financial support for large gas projects on the yamal peninsula. In return, China gets what it badly needs: energy for its voracious domestic market.
Last summer, the first batch of liquefied natural gas was shipped to China via the north sea route. Chinese companies own 30% of the yamal gas project.
More partnerships are in the pipeline. China and Russia recently announced a joint research center to study changes in sea ice conditions along the north sea route, among other issues. Chinese state-owned poly group proposed in 2017 to build a new deep-water port in the Russian arctic port city of arkhangelsk.
But China's relationship with Russia is complicated.
China is building its second icebreaker capable of navigating polar waters. But, according to an analysis published in the pentagon's annual report to congress this year, Russia's main approach has been to lease out a much larger fleet of icebreakers to direct foreign ships through the north sea, and so has been less pleased with the competition from China.
Russia strongly opposes any foreign icebreaker crossing the waterway it currently dominates.
Not only that, the Russian military is flexing its muscles in the region, restoring cold war bases on its northern coast and modernizing its nuclear submarines.
China has said it wants to build a deep-water navy to protect its expanding interests around the world. This means that where China is making strategic investments, the Chinese navy is likely to follow.
But China, with its long-term game in mind, may be able to afford to wait. If the sea ice continues to recede, more of the arctic will be navigable, making it harder for Russia to dominate the far northern waters.
Heather a. Conley, A fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, is one of the authors of A report on China's arctic ambitions. For too long, she says, the United States has ignored the arctic. She believes Washington should expand its presence in the region and work with the international BBS, which brings together governments in the region.
华盛顿战略与国际研究中心(Center for Strategic and International Studies)研究员希瑟·A·康利(Heather A. Conley)是一份有关中国在北极野心的报告的作者之一。她说，长久以来，美国忽视了北极地区。她认为，华盛顿应该扩大美国在该地区的存在，并应与把该地区的各国政府召集在一起的国际论坛合作。
Otherwise, she warned in congressional testimony this month, "the opportunities and influence of the United States in the arctic region will diminish, and our Allies and partners in the region will increasingly accommodate the policy outcomes favored by Russia and China."