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As China Looks to Move Past Coronavirus Pandemic, Resource War Theaters Come into Focus

With much of the world still in lockdown, China appears to rev up its engine to move past the coronavirus.  The City of Wuhan, the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, has re-opened, factories have restarted their operations, stores are reopening and people are leaving their confined quarters to venture outside. 

With coronavirus having exposed the West’s dependence on China for critical medical supplies and drugs, as well as critical mineral resources, it becomes all the more important that we keep an eye on Beijing, which has been flexing itstentacles across the globe even as the country was shut down.  

Observers believe that China will look to exploit the phase of coming out of the gate first and effectively being the sole big player in town to solidify its geopolitical position. 

One possible theater for Chinese advances  is the South China Sea, where, according to retired US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center Carl Schuster “China is exploiting the US Navy’s coronavirus challenges to improve its position in the South China Sea by giving the appearance it can and will operate there at will while the US is hamstrung.”

Another theater is one ARPN has frequently discussed because of its implications for resource policy: The Arctic

Chinese engagement in the resource-rich Arctic has increased considerably during the past decade, prompting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to speak of a “new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats” urging vigilance on the part of the Arctic Council, where China has obtained observer status because of its self-proclaimed “near-Arctic state” status. Pompeo rebuked said status in May of 2019, stating that “the shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 900 miles. (…)There are only Arctic and non-Arctic states. No third category exists, and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing.” 

The United States’ claim to the Arctic, meanwhile, comes via Alaska, which – across a range of metals and minerals — can play a key role in resource supply in the 21st Century, particularly as U.S. stakeholders increasingly realize the importance of alleviating our supply chain vulnerabilities and reducing our over-reliance on Chinese metals and minerals.  

Almost eight years ago, ARPN’s Daniel McGroarty argued

“Alaska is America’s foothold in the Arctic. (…) This will prove incredibly important. We don’t see it now, but the strategic resource value of this single state could drive U.S. growth and competitiveness in the decades ahead.”

In the coming weeks and months, the United States must continue its vigorous efforts to contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19, but while we do that, we cannot let our geopolitical guard down, as the resource wars are set to continue.