Race for Arctic Energy Riches Heats Up

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"China clearly has no intention of being dealt out of the Great Arctic Energy Game."

When Vladimir Putin calls for international dialogue and personally attends the resulting conference, you know Russia means business. "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue" conference on the future of the Arctic's oil and gas riches represents new Cold War intrigue writ large.

The race for the Arctic's energy bonanza is heating up. Last month, Canada hosted a summit of Arctic Ocean Foreign Ministers from the littoral nations (Canada, U.S., Russia, Denmark and Norway). But that conference only hit the headlines when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the organizers for excluding other interested parties, especially the indigenous peoples and Iceland, Finland and Sweden.

In June, the Adam Smith Conferences will host the "Russian Arctic Oil and Gas Conference" in Moscow; among the organizing group is the revived Russian Geographical Society (RGS).

If Russia is serious about taking the initiative in reducing growing tensions over Arctic territorial and mineral rights and potential future conflict, then there are certainly plenty of tensions around to defuse. Russia and the U.S. have yet to resolve a long-standing demarcation dispute in the north Pacific; the U.S. and Canada are arguing over large areas of the Beaufort Sea; Denmark is wrangling with Canada over claims in Greenland; and there's Norway's claim to a massive portion of Russia's continental shelf in the Barents Sea. Britain, too, has lately made a claim in the north Atlantic giving it "Arctic access."

Then there are, of all things, China's Arctic claims.

Currently on a worldwide metals and energy shopping spree, China too has shifted its eyes to the vast new energy frontier beckoning under the Arctic. China clearly has no intention of being dealt out of the Great Arctic Energy Game. Beijing has gained observer-status at the Arctic Council. It has opened research stations in Norway, at Spitzgen. It owns the world's largest, Soviet-bought, icebreaker with which it already plies Arctic waters. Though China has no rights to Arctic shelf deposits per se, it understandably has a serious interest in the region's strategic and economic future.

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