Norway’s relationship with China is as tumultuous as it is brief. Although the countries conduct trade worth billions of dollars per year, diplomatic relations were suspended from 2010 to 2016. Chinese Foreign Minister asserted “Norway deeply reflected upon the reasons why bilateral mutual trust was harmed” since dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Since, Chinese economic and political activity has steadily increased.
Recent Developments and the Narvik Shipment
In May, the Chinese government acquired a substantial share of Norwegian Air via state-owned companies. Around the time of this acquisition, Norwegian State Secretary Audun Halvorsen contradicted the Prime Minister’s tough tack on China. Economic integration is proceeding apace: an outbound shipment from China recently reached Norway’s Narvik Seaport in under two weeks.
The shipment functions as proof-of-concept for China’s Polar Silk Road, cutting travel time by over half when compared with nautical transport. Narvik’s small town economy stands to gain significantly should the route become reality.
Small Town Silk Roads
Over the objections of local officials, Norway’s state highway department greenlit the Chinese state owned Sichuan Road and Bridge Group’s construction of Narvik’s Hålogaland Bridge. Federal officials feared that Chinese retaliation for a rejected bid would affect the two countries’ pending free-trade agreement.
Chinese capital is simply irresistible to the small, often increasingly post-industrial towns of Scandinavia’s Arctic. The North Sea city of Kirkenes hosted a delegation last May from the state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), hoping to secure a port infrastructure development agreement.
With China seeking Arctic power projection and Eurasian economic integration, a closer relationship with Norway is as of now inevitable. China’s surgical engagement in the Nordic country’s small towns and coastal hinterlands will continue without a unified national or regional policy toward the People’s Republic. The 2020 Nordic Foreign Security and Policy Report acknowledges China as a potential cause for concern, and establishes the need for such a unified approach.
The void Chinese government capital and development fills is real, and simply locking the power out is not enough. For Norway to maintain its sovereignty, alternative sources of investment are necessary. A renewed American focus on Arctic development is essential to counter China’s one-town-at-a-time integration of the High North into its Polar Silk Road.