WASHINGTON – I recently wrote a column on the challenges posed by China both in the South China Sea and globally on the deep seabed. But there is another element to the maritime “Great Game” China is playing: the Arctic Ocean. This may seem counterintuitive — last time I looked at a map, China did not have any Arctic waterfront. But this has not stopped Beijing from an aggressive program of building influence in what the Canadians call the High North.
When I was supreme allied commander of NATO, I asked my friend, Gen. Walt Natynczyk, then the Canadian military’s chief of staff, whether he was worried about a Russian invasion of the Canadian Arctic. He chuckled and said, “Jim, if they tried to invade, my mission would probably turn out to be search and rescue.” His point — how difficult it is to execute operations up there — was well-taken. But China, which until recently has no experience in that harsh environment, is learning quickly and expanding its reach and expertise aggressively.