Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen

Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen

Professor, Chair in Politics, University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway

Visiting at: Tongji University / Shanghai Institutes for International Studies / Polar Research Institute of China
Period: 2 months
Research Theme: Sino-Nordic + Arctic Science Diplomacy for Building Sino-Nordic Arctic Policy Relations Under Conditions of Globalization

Professor Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen from University of Tromsø –The Arctic University of Norway was granted the fellowship to conduct a one-month academic visit at China Nordic Arctic Research Center, Polar Research Institute of China in Shanghai from March to April in 2017. 

 The fellowship report of Prof. Bertelsen and his description of his activities are listed as below.

Triple-helix knowledge-based Sino-Nordic Arctic relationships for trust and sustainable development

Rasmus Gjedsso Bertelsen in front of Xue Long in Shanghai

1. The Nordic countries in the circumpolar Arctic and the two grand international Shifts

This paper discusses the role of Sino-Arctic knowledge based collaborations among academia, business, civil society, and government as part of the Arctic region’s adaptation to power transition and globalization in response to systemic international political and economic changes. The Arctic is deeply affected by power transition and globalization. The rise of China is an instance of power transition in the international system, which has been a recurrent phenomenon historically.

The transition of power is a complex and dangerous process to manage. A feature of the transition of power is fear and mistrust between status quo powers and rising powers, which is also the case between the West today and China including in relation to the Arctic region. The argument here is that knowledge-based collaborations between academia, business, civil society, and government can contribute to managing the transition of power and mitigating distrust in the Arctic region. Lessons from managing the transition of power in the Arctic are therefore relevant in wider academic and policy contexts.

The material for this paper was collected during Rasmus’s time as a guest researcher at the China Nordic Arctic Research Center, Polar Research Institute of China, Shanghai,in March and April of 2016, as well as during my teaching of the summer school course entitled “The Global Arctic” at the University of International Relations (UIR) in Beijing from 11 to 22 July, 2016. The paper focuses on the five Nordic states (Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) along with their three self-governing territories (Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Aaland) as well as the Saami indigenous people of Sápmi, spanning northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

2. Beyond science diplomacy

This paper seeks to go beyond science diplomacy in relation to science in the Arctic to knowledge based cooperation between academia, business, civil society, and government. Before taking this step, the potential of Sino-Arctic science diplomacy for mitigating the distrust and governance challenges presented by the transition of power will be briefly outlined based on previous research by Bertelsen et al. Bertelsen et al point out that comparing the distrust surrounding the mere thought of Chinese investment in land and natural resources in the Arctic region contrasts clearly with more harmonious Sino-Nordic Arctic scientific collaborations. Therefore, their conclusion is that science diplomacy in the Arctic makes it possible for China to enter the Arctic, causing less distrust among Arctic states, and for Arctic states to integrate China into the Arctic region with greater confidence.

Distrust of China was evident in the controversy surrounding the proposal by Huang Nubo to establish a tourist resort in northeast Iceland, which foundered in the atmosphere of Icelandic mistrust. This mistrust was also evident on the Danish side toward both Greenland and China when Greenland was keen to obtain Chinese investment in iron-ore mining projects. It is important to emphasize that such distrust of investment by a rising world power has a significant structural element.

The Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC) is currently completing the construction of the Chinese–Icelandic Aurora Observatory in conjunction with Rannís, the Icelandic Center for Research, at Kárhóll in northeast Iceland, which has been well received. Further, the Yellow River Station on Svalbard is an important Arctic research connection between Norway and China. Meanwhile, PRIC is developing its research connections with Greenland. The China-Nordic Arctic Research Center (CNARC), which was originally a Sino-Icelandic initiative, is now the key Sino-Nordic Arctic social and human sciences forum. China’s observer status on the Arctic Council allows it to participate in the epistemic community of the Arctic Council’s working groups.

3. Knowledge-based Sino-Nordic Arctic triple-helix development

A triple-helix approach refers to collaboration in terms of research, development, and innovation between academia, business, and government, which in the context of this paper is expanded to include civil society in light of the importance of both the local and indigenous communities in the Arctic region. As noted earlier, the trust-building and governance advantages presented by Sino-Arctic science diplomacy are in contrast to the pervading atmosphere of distrust regarding potential Chinese investment in the Arctic region.

Academics and policymakers are paying increasing attention to transforming the natural-resource-based economies in the Arctic to more innovative, entrepreneurial, knowledge-based economies. This goal presents opportunities for Sino-Arctic triple-helix cooperation that is mutually beneficial. Arctic communities are traditionally natural resource based economies. However, there are numerous environmental, social, and cultural sustainability challenges in relation to natural-resource based economies. Discussions around China’s interest in the Arctic have centered on natural resources, i.e. seafood, minerals, and shipping access, but the focus could easily shift to more knowledge-based economic activities.

Observations gathered during Rasmus’s guest researcher period at the CNARC indicate possible areas for Sino-Nordic triple-helix cooperation. These areas can be developed in terms of both depth and scope, but are briefly outlined below. Kingdom of Denmark: the use of Hempel’s coatings for ships and installations involved in Chinese investment projects in the highly challenging Arctic environment is a possible area of Sino-Danish Arctic high-tech collaboration. Finland: Finnair and other Finnish organizations have considerable expertise in developing Chinese and other Asian tourism in the Nordic countries, including the Arctic. Iceland: Since the late 1970s, Iceland has worked in partnership with China to develop China’s geothermal energy resources through the United Nations University Geothermal Training Program hosted by the Iceland National Energy Authority. And the Sinopec Green Energy Geothermal Development Company is a concrete example of Sino-Icelandic collaboration, spreading geothermal energy use in China. Norway: Tromsø is a recognized center for cold and blue biotechnology, and so Norway and China could pursue further high tech collaboration in blue biotechnology. There is also the possibility of combining fish farming and seaweed farming to capture nutrients and carbon. Sweden: Sweden has built an advanced sociotechnical mega-system throughout northern Sweden and northern Norway integrating mining, processing, energy, transportation, communities, and defense, which should be of great interest to China.

4. UIR student projects

The other data used in this research were gathered from projects for innovative and entrepreneurial Sino-Arctic cooperation generated by Chinese undergraduate international relations students at the UIR in Beijing. These projects demonstrated the wide range of possibilities for Sino-Arctic joint projects, with most being in innovative areas such as academia, culture, and sustainable development rather than in the traditional fields of oil and gas exploration, shipping, and fishing.

From 11 to 22 July 2016, Rasmus taught a summer school course at the UIR in Beijing entitled “The Global Arctic: Climate Change, Power Transition and Globalization”. The course was taken by nearly 40 first- and second-year Chinese undergraduate students from a range of majors. The students were placed into 10 groups of up to four students, with a mix of gender and majors. The course assignment required each group to develop an idea for a collaborative project between Chinese and Arctic partners. Each project had to take into consideration climate change, international politics, economic globalization, and the political, economic, scientific, and transnational nexus between China and the Arctic country in question.

The group projects are as follows: (1) climate change research project; (2) Sino-Danish-Faroese wind energy research center; (3) Sino-Danish-Greenlandic cultural center project; (4) UIR–UmU exchange and cooperation project; (5) UIR–PKU–HÍ exchange and cooperation Project; (6) Sino-Canadian Arctic oil and gas exploration and production collaboration; (7) Beijing–Reykjavik geothermal heating collaboration; (8) low-carbon Chinese tourism in Alaska; (9) Dalian Maritime University–Arctic Council collaborative research on Arctic shipping; (10) State Oceanic Administration, Ocean University of China, and Arctic Council collaborative research on Arctic fishing.

5. Conclusion

This research revealed possible fields of Arctic knowledge-based collaborations among academia, businesses, civil society, and government between the five Nordic countries and China. These fields of knowledge-based triple-helix cooperation can transfer the trust-building and governance from science diplomacy to more commercial areas. Triple helix knowledge-based cooperation is expected to mitigate the distrust of potential Chinese investment in Arctic natural resources and land that has been identified in science diplomacy research.

The 10 Sino-Arctic cooperation projects revealed great innovativeness and entrepreneurialism. These projects were mainly in the areas of academic collaboration, renewable energy, low-carbon tourism, and fisheries research, with only two projects proposed in traditional fields, one relating to Northern Sea Route shipping and the other to oil and gas exploration. These projects demonstrated that there is strong interest, innovativeness, and entrepreneurialism among Chinese people in developing triple-helix knowledge-based collaboration between Arctic societies and China.

These projects show promise in building trust and contributing to sustainable development in both Arctic societies and Chinese society. These societies should take notice of this innovativeness and entrepreneurialism and focus on facilitating such triple-helix knowledge-based collaborations as the future of Sino-Arctic relationships rather than continuing to focus on the traditional areas of oil and gas exploration, fishing, and shipping.