Waliul Hasanat

Waliul Hasanat

Research fellow, Arctic Centre, Lapland University, Finland

Visiting at: China Ocean University
Period: 1 month
Research Theme: China as an Observer State in the Arctic Council: Advantages and Future Challenges

As a researcher at the Arctic Centre, Lapland University, member institute under the collaborative framework of China-Nordic Arctic Research Center (CNARC) in Finland, Dr. Md. Waliul Hasanat succeeded in applying for a one- month fellowship at the School of Law and Political Science (SLPS) at Ocean University of China in November 2014, with an aim to enhancing his practical knowledge on Chinese views on the topic ‘China as an Observer State in the Arctic Council: Advantages and Future Challenges’. 

The excerpt below in the CNARC fellowship report of Dr. Hasanat describes his academic activities and basic research findings during his visit in China:

Academic Activities

Academic activities conducted during the CNARC fellowship trip could be described in two main sections – meeting academia and delivering lectures.

Meeting Academia

I had several meetings with Guo Peiqing (professor of international relations, also executive director of the SLPS) whom I contacted first on the occasion of my CNARC trip to China. His scholarly interests include international cooperation, Arctic political scenario and analytical thought mainly in the rapid changing global context made our meetings more enjoyable and fruitful. As an expert in polar politics and Chinese diplomacy, his practical knowledge on ongoing bilateral relationship between China and different Arctic states connected individual issues concerning the Arctic Ocean and China’s participation in Arctic cooperation kept me fascinated since the beginning to the end of our discussions, as well as how as to Chinese policies would fit in to the rest of the globe and vice versa. In fact, we developed academic friendship within a short period of time and exchanged a lot of views and learnt enormously from each other.

I met a few times SUN Kai (associate professor of international relations) and exchanged many emails with him in different times. As a rising expert on Arctic governance and international environmental politics, most of his insights and interests dedicated to the nature of Arctic cooperation and Chinese involvement in the cooperation, along with challenges and prospects of China in a changing Arctic. Sometimes the discussion included comparing educational system and methods of different countries although the main focus was concentrated to that of China and Finland. As an easygoing person he became very open with his own opinions and tried to explain his ideas and ask relevant question frequently which added extra charm during our discussions.

Two times I met LIU Huirong (professor of international law, also the vice Dean of the SLPS) whose main academic interests contain conceptual developments in international law, Arctic governance, environmental protection and conservation of natural resources accessible to international community, along with economic law and legal science.

I had a long discussion, in addition to a short introductory meeting, with MA Yingjie (professor of environmental law) focusing on maritime pollution, protection of marine biodiversity, monitoring and environmental impact assessment in territorial sea water and coastal area. We ended up with agreeing to establish future scientific cooperation and exchange ideas for both of our scholarly improvement.

I met once Bai Jiayu (associate professor of international law) and exchanged couple of emails with her. The discussion mainly concentrated to the development of the concept of soft law in international law, emerging soft- law forms of international cooperation in the Arctic in order to address the newfangled problems faced by the vulnerable communities and the governments in the Arctic.

As earlier I have pointed out about an opportunity of visiting Shanghai Jian Tong University where I had an exclusive meeting with Fu Kuncheng (professor of international law, and director of the Polar and Deep Ocean Development Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU-PADOD)). Prof. FU shared me his expert skills gathered from attending different international seminars and meetings related to the Arctic Council, in lunch party offered by him.


Delivering Lectures

I delivered five lectures in total during the entire trip: three in the SLPS and two at the School of Law at SJTU.

The first lecture I delivered to graduate students of SLPS coordinated by Dong Limin on 10 November 2014 in the meeting room of the school’s library. The topic chosen for the informal lecture was ‘Arctic governance’ where students participated from both doctoral and master levels. Having background in the fields of law or international relation, the students asked many questions regarding the ongoing developments in Arctic governance and how China will become successful in achieving its interests in the Arctic. We had lively discussion lasted for an hour and a half.

The second lecture organized by Prof. SUN Kai with his graduate students on 12 November 2014 and the duration was fifty minutes. The governance structure of the Arctic Council was the main focus; while, conceptual development of soft law in international law in an Arctic context was also discussed.

The third lecture organized by Prof. GUO on 13 November at 14:00 in the meeting hall of the SLPS where the participants were faculty members, doctoral and master level students along with degree students. The title of the lecture determined as ‘Soft-law Forms of Governance in the Arctic: Interplay with International Law’. In fact, the duration of the lecture, according to its initial plan, was two hours although it took half an hour more since the attendees took part very actively in the discussions and asked many questions both on conceptual development in international law, also ongoing political cooperation in the Arctic. The role of China towards the Arctic also came in the discussions mainly concerning the future activities in the Arctic Ocean when it opens up due to climate change.

The next lecture took place in the School of Law at the SJTU on 19 November 2014, starting from 10:00 continued until 12:00 where Prof. FU chaired the session. Number of faculty members, researchers and law students participated in the lecture on ‘Soft-Law Cooperation in International Law: Conceptual Development in Arctic context’. The concept of soft law attracted many of the participants; while, a few audiences asked questions also directed to Chinese interests, rights and obligation in the Arctic region.

The fifth lecture organized in the same place on the following day (20 November 2014) where the participants were very much similar. The topic for the day chosen as ‘Soft-law Forms of Governance in the Arctic: Interplay with International Law’. Structures for different international soft-law governance in the Arctic, at both national and regional levels, were explained (Arctic Council, Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Northern Forum) including the reasons of being so many soft-law bodies in the Arctic other than creating classical international organization established under international law. The talk also covered possible synergy setting among the dominant soft-law forms of cooperation in the Arctic.


Research Findings

China is the first state outside Europe accepted as ad hoc observer in the Arctic Council, the only Arctic- wide state-level forum for international cooperation established in 1996. Subsequently, the ad hoc observer position of China transformed into full observer status in 2013. As a global rising power, full observer position of China within the Arctic Council has attracted scholarly attention - its capacity and willingness to serve the main objectives of the Council or exploring the actual reasons behind Chinese involvement to the forum. The general objective of the study was to examine the policies and laws China has outlined towards its Arctic action; while, special attention was given to how China has been developing policies supporting the aims and objectives of the Council. The goal of the CNARC fellowship trip determined as to become familiar with the views of Chinese scholars on the prospect of China as an observer of the Arctic Council, also their predictions on future challenges for China in enhancing its involvement within the Council.

Shipping in the Arctic Ocean is important for China - some scholars find the consequences of climate change in the Arctic as more opportunity for China other than challenge. China may find her interests in the Arctic in the arenas of energy, shipping, fishing etc. Chinese mining companies are already in the Arctic and have developed bilateral agreements with Arctic states and large numbers of ships owned by Chinese company are operational in the Arctic Ocean.

Thus, the Arctic is an important place for China. However, most of the scholars those I met during the trip, also knowledgeable about the Arctic Council, argued that there was little possibility of bringing Arctic Council issue at national priority level China since there are lot of more important issues for the Chinese government to be dealt with.

In fact, China has developed its economic condition and social standard at a satisfactory level. However, people in many states including public servants do not know the real situation of China and possess negative notion that is far from the reality. Accompanying with more internationally interactions by China may bring forward its

present capability and developments in Chinese society to others. Thus, getting observer position in the Arctic Council is a political gain for China particularly in a forum of world’s leading states mainly from North America (Canada and the USA) and Europe, along with Russia. The recent reformation carried out with respect to foreign relationship in China has unfolded its long-lasted social lack of contact towards other states. In fact, maintain a huge number of populations for any country is a big challenge that China has been managing successfully, and its growing developments show its capacity to be involved in global politics as an independent power. China has been focusing more to the Antarctica other than to the Arctic while considering polar research. She is new to Arctic research in the fields of social science although young scholars seem to be interested in conducting social science research on Arctic issues mainly related to the Arctic Ocean or business relationship with Arctic states.

The scholarly views encompass that China is serious about its commitments made by Chinese government to international communities from time to time primarily concerning rules and principles of international law. One scholar expressed his dissatisfaction towards negative articulation of Chinese situation by representatives of some states in international forums in particular in absence of Chinese delegation in those forums; while, they would have not roared in such negatively in presence of Chinese representative. Thus, it is important for China to involve as many as international forums in order to get rid of such type of unexpected blaming from other states.

A good number of scholars evaluate the participation of China in the Arctic Council as positive, also cooperation with the Council’s member states and other associated entities to protect Arctic environment and ensuring sustainable development in the Arctic – the main objectives of the Arctic Council. The Chinese involvement with the activities of the Arctic Council may uphold the countries reputation; expand friendly relationship with other states, and China may achieve economic benefit by expanding its business to Arctic states. However, few scholars are critical on the role of specific states that those states do not seem active in the activities of the Arctic council rather expect active contribution from China; some scholars hesitates to find Chinese contribution to the development of Arctic sustainability - why should China will contribute to the people in the Arctic or Council’s permanent participants - indigenous peoples in the region, has been set forth as a criterion by the Arctic Council for its observers. According to them, support to Arctic indigenous peoples should be made by their own states. Some scholars find the criteria as ineffective since those do not seem strong enough to bind China in the future to limit Chinese rights in the Arctic Ocean against already established norms, rules, principles in international law.


Challenges and Limitations

Lack of opportunity of meeting Chinese officials during the trip could be seen as a shortcoming since they have practical knowledge on current and future plan and attitude of the government concerning Arctic cooperation. In fact, it was somewhat impossible to set communication with any government official within a short period of time, which ties to lot of bureaucracy as well.