Valur Ingimundarson

Valur Ingimundarson

Professor, Department of Contemporary History, University of Iceland

Visiting at: Shanghai Institutes for International Studies / Polar Research Institute of China
Period: 1 month
Research Theme: Arctic Geopolitics, National Interests, and Transnational Governance

Professor Valur Ingimundarson from the Department of Contemporary History, University of Iceland, was granted the fellowship to conduct a one-month academic visit at research institutes on Arctic research in China from November to December 2014. 

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


What follows is a report of my research activities during my month-long stay in Shanghai (November 14– December 14, 2014) as a Visiting Professor at the China–Nordic Arctic Research Center (CNARC). I worked on Arctic governance, geopolitics, and security at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) and the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC). During the fellowship period, I finished a scholarly article on Icelandic Arctic policies from historical and contemporary perspectives, which will be submitted for publication in a prestigious academic journal. Moreover, I gave three academic talks at SIIS and PRIC in addition to taking part in other academic activities and having meetings with Chinese scholars. I also gave a lecture at Tongji University and met with academics and students. Finally, I went to Beijing, where I had the opportunity to interview officials from the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Ocean Administration (CAA) within the State Ocean Administration (SOA).

Research and Lecture Activities

Polar bear on iceberg

I. At SIIS, I first took part in a day-long symposium—entitled “High Level China–Canada Arctic Forum”—on November 15, 2014. Apart from contributing to the discussion, I gave a talk on “Iceland and Arctic Governance.” In it, I focused on identity politics—and perceptions of Iceland‘s role in the Arctic—and put it into the context of Iceland‘s core Arctic policies with respect to the UN Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS); the Arctic Council; the respective roles of the Arctic Eight and the Arctic Five; the involvement of non-regional Arctic states, such as China and the EU; and Iceland‘s self-promotion as an Arctic “coastal state.” The symposium gave me valuable insight into the state of the Sino-Canadian relationship with respect to the Arctic in terms of intergovernmental relations and of scientific and academic cooperation between the two countries. The scholarly contributions of Chinese and Canadian scholars on various Arctic issues were also very informative.


  1. At SIIS, I had meetings with experts in the field of Chinese foreign and Arctic policies. Below I will briefly outline the topics of discussion:
    1. Yang Jian (Vice President of the SIIS) discussed key elements in China‘s foreign policy and the geopolitical, CNARC Fellowship Reports Newsletter, 3nd Issue, March 2015 9 economic, and social challenges faced by a Great Power with global interests. He also elaborated also on China‘s Arctic policies and the Sino-Icelandic relationship.
    2. Fang Xiao (Deputy Director, Department of General Affairs discussed developments in Sino-European/ EU relation), explained China’s relations with Europe and the diversification of its geopolitical interests. She also talked about the respective roles of Poland, the Czech Republic, and the rationale behind Free Trade Agreements between China and European countries like Iceland and Switzerland.
    3. Cheng Baozhi (Researcher at the Institute for Global Governance Studies, Center for Maritime and Polar Region Studies) talked about Sino-Russian relations; China‘s relationship with Canada; and the Ukrainian crisis and its impact on Western-Russian relations. He also expanded on the lessons, which could be drawn from the “Nordic model” and the EU as a consensus-oriented project.
    4. Zhang Yao (Director, Center for Maritime and Polar Region Studies) discussed China-Russian relations after Ukrainian crisis; the role of Iceland and the other Nordic states in the Arctic, and Chinese interests in the region; we also discussed security issues in the Arctic and the upcoming U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council.
    5. Feng Shuai (Assistant Director, Institute for International Strategic Studies) gave an assessment of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), its viability and economic importance, and Russian policies. We also touched upon the problem of infrastructure along the NSR.
    6. Zhang Pei (Deputy Director, Center for Maritime and Polar Region Studies) discussed China‘s Arctic policies and cultural and social attitudes toward China in the Arctic states and the role of the media. We also discussed the role of small Arctic states and their influence on Arctic governance.
    7. Zhou Shixin (Research Fellow, Institute for Foreign Policy Studies, Center for Asia-Pacific Studies) gave an overview of China‘s policies in South East Asia and the ASEAN countries and its political and economic role in the region; there was also a discussion sovereignty issues and territorial disputes and attitudes of the main disputants toward international arbitration.
    8. Shao Yuqun (Director for the Center of American Studies) discussed China‘s relationship with the United States as a core strategic relationship. She also described Chinese perceptions of the United States; the role of political and social media; and the structure of decision-making in China.
  2. I was invited to a give a lecture—on November 26—at the SIIS, which was entitled “Geopolitical Uncertainties and Domestic Insecurities: Icelandic Foreign and Security Policies in the 21st Century.” In the talk, I explored, Iceland’s strategic position and foreign and security policies. Approaching the topic from an historical perspective, I put it within the context of Iceland’s place in Western political and military structures, geopolitics and governance; Russian geopolitics; Nordic security and defense cooperation both with respect to hard and soft security aspects; and the Sino-Icelandic relationship. I also examined the inter-linkages and interactions between these factors.

    Following my talk, there was an open discussion on the topic with participation of SIIS researchers who attended it. It centered on the general orientation of Icelandic foreign policy; the role of NATO in the Arctic; the Icelandic-EU relationship; the level of self-sufficiency Iceland enjoys when it comes to sustainable energy sources, such geothermal energy and hydro electric power—and the question of whether Iceland is poised to become an energy exporter.

  3. On December 5, I took part in a symposium on Sino-EU relations—co-sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies—at SIIS. It was entitled “China’s West meets Europe’s East – Going beyond established Sino-European Cooperation.” The participants were European officials and European and Chinese scholars. The purpose was to map out the further possibilities of cooperation between the EU and China on the basis of the bilateral Strategic Partnership and the Strategic Agenda for Cooperation. I chaired a Public Panel Discussion under the heading “The Transition of Geopolitics and Its Implications for China and Europe,” with the participation of European and Chinese scholars and the German Consul General in Shanghai. This was a lively debate, not only about Sino-European relations but also about the regional roles of Central Asia and Eastern and Central Europe; the superpower status of the United States; Russia’s place in the international China-Nordic Arctic Research Center 10 order; Sino-Russian relations; the question of whether shift towards geopolitics is a throwback to the Cold War; the situation in the Ukraine; post-Cold War liberal ideologies; the Iranian nuclear question; and Sino-North Korean relations.

II. During my stay at the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC), I worked on my research project on Arctic governance and Icelandic Arctic policies and the relationship with China.

  1. I had informative meetings with Director General, Yang Huigen, where we discussed Arctic affairs, ChineseIcelandic Arctic relations, and Icelandic Arctic policies. At PRIC, I was in much contact with Arctic researchers Egill Þór Níelsson and Deng Beixi, who administer CNARC as Executive Secretaries; I had productive discussions with them on Arctic affairs and other issues of mutual interest. I would also like to mention Tu Jingfang, a Research Assistant in the Strategic Studies Division with whom I shared an office during my stay at PRIC.
  2. During my stay at PRIC, I was asked to give advice on the publication of the first CNARC book, which is scheduled to come out next year. I put forward some ideas to advance the project; I suggested possible authors, discussed topics of individual chapters, and recommended specific editorial policies and guidelines. I also expressed my willingness to write a chapter in the book.
  3. At PRIC, I finished writing and an academic article on the evolution of Iceland’s Arctic policies. I also worked on an article on post-Kiruna Arctic governance issues and the potential geopolitical spill-over effects of the Ukrainian crisis on Arctic cooperation—an article that I will submit for publication in a respected journal.
  4. On December 12, I gave a talk at PRIC entitled “A Return to Geopolitics? Iceland’s Place in the Arctic,” which was attended by researchers at PRIC and members of the Arctic network made up several Shanghai-based research institutes. The event was chaired by Zhang Xia, the Head of the Strategic Division at PRIC, who also took an active part in the discussion after my presentation. In it, I discussed how Iceland has used the Arctic to promote diverse agendas. Apart from seeing the region as a source of prestige associated with a membership in an elite Arctic club, the Arctic Council, Icelandic elites have adapted the “idea of the Arctic” to different political and economic interests. I showed that the Arctic’s future potential has been used to redraw attention to Iceland’s geostrategic location after the U.S. military withdrawal; that it has been promoted as a way—in the wake of the financial crisis and the collapse of the Icelandic banking system—to offer forward-looking economic visions; and that it has been employed both to reinforce traditional Iceland’s Western foreign policy orientation and to explore new non-Western possibilities, such as increased ties with China. I argued that the resumption of EastWest tensions over the Ukrainian crisis might—if it revives geopolitical competition reminiscent of the Cold War— have spill-over effects in the Arctic. After the talk, there was a fruitful exchange of views with those who attended the event. Among the issues discussed were Icelandic security policies; the relationship with the United States and NATO; Iceland’s role in Nordic cooperation; China’s Arctic interests; Iceland’s foreign policy identities; and legal questions regarding Arctic maritime routes.

III. I visited Tongji University, where I gave a lecture entitled “Forging National Narratives: Arctic Identity Politics in the Past and Present” on December 9. I also met with scholars, such as Professor Xia Liping and Assistant Professor Ping Su, to discuss Arctic issues, including Chinese-Icelandic relations and a planned conference on fisheries in the Arctic Ocean at Tongji University. My lecture was about historical narratives and myths used by the Arctic states to buttress their contemporary Arctic strategies and policies; it also dealt with how imperial, colonial, and Cold War legacies can be found in present-day discourses on the Arctic. Apart from professors, the event was attended by students doing research projects on the Arctic, Chinese-Icelandic relations, and international relations and politics. Before the talk and afterwards, I elaborated on Icelandic Arctic policies, with special emphasis on China. There was also a discussion of how lower oil prices would affect interest in Arctic natural resource exploitation. At Tongji, I also discussed scholarly cooperation projects in areas such as Icelandic-Chinese relations and maritime security. Newsletter, 3nd Issue, March 2015 11

IV. On December 11, I—together with PRIC researcher Egill Þór Níelsson—had a meeting in Beijing with four Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Ocean Administration officials: Quin Weijia, Deputy Director of CAA, Chen Danhong, Head, Division of International Cooperation, Xu Shijie, Head, Division of Policy and Planning, and Long Wei, Deputy Head, Division of International Cooperation. Among the topics elaborated on were the following: China’s interest in the Arctic; the role of climate change and its effects on China; scientific Arctic research activities; China’s scientific contribution to the Arctic Council; this included the problem of exclusionary pressures faced by Arctic Council observer states within the AC’s working groups; Chinese-Icelandic relations, including political and scientific cooperation; the use of the North Sea Route and opportunities and challenges associated with it, such as ice-melting, infrastructure problems, and economic viability; China’s relations with other Arctic states, such as Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark, and Finland; territorial and legal issues with respect to Arctic governance; the role of the Economic Council approved by the Arctic states under Canada’s AC chairmanship.


During my stay in China as a CNARC Visiting Professor, I gained important insights into Chinese policies and research activities on the Arctic, established academic relationships with Chinese scholars—which I hope will translate into future academic projects and institutional links with the University of Iceland and the EDDA – Center of Excellence (which I chair)—and introduced my own academic work to Chinese scholars by giving lectures and taking part in symposia. Finally, as noted, I managed to complete an academic article during my stay at SIIS and PRIC. I am especially indebted to Vice President Yang Jian (SIIS) and Director General, Yang Huigen (PRIC)—as well as the following researchers: Song Quing (SIIS), Deng Beixi (PRIC), Egill Þór Níelsson (PRIC), Dr. Chen Xu (PRIC), Dr. Zhang Pei (SIIS), and Assistant Professor Ping Su (Tongji University)—for their part in making my stay so fruitful. It is my belief that such personal and organizational ties will further China–Nordic academic cooperation, which is one of CNARC´s central aims, and strengthen transnational scholarly research on the Arctic.