But President Xi had not lost his mind..
Has President Xi Jinping gone mad?
Many scratched their heads when President Xi referred to China as a “Polar Superpower” in 2014, but he was not crazy. President Xi had listened to the United Nations’ climate scientists who said that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free by 2035, and while Western leaders saw hunger, drought, and refugees, President Xi saw a way to increase power and influence.
Dependency is vulnerability
In its 2018 Arctic strategy, China referred to itself as a “Near-Arctic power” and presented a plan for establishing a Polar Silk Road to increase its economic influence on Europe. A silk road would reduce the shipping time for goods from Asia to Europe by ten days, but that was not all..
More dependent on autocracies
If UN climate scientists are correct, the Arctic Ocean will be the world’s most important source of protein in 2035, the shipping traffic will increase, new oil and gas fields will be put into operation, and highly valuable mineral deposits along the Arctic Ocean spreading ridges will be available for extraction.
Minerals are the building blocks in all technologies. With the green shift, the global demand for minerals is increasing, and thereby the dependency on the countries that produce them.
Today, China controls the mineral supply chains, despite not having the largest mineral resources themselves.
China are dependent on countries like Australia, Chile and Congo for the critical minerals it produces.
Copper, lithium, and cobalt are some of the minerals that are essential to solving the climate challenges.
Half of the world’s most productive copper and lithium mines are located along the equator, in the areas where temperatures are expected to increase the most.
Water scarcity is already high in these areas, and when these mines close due to lack of water, President Xi knows that the Arctic Ocean, with its enormous mineral resources, will become very attractive.
Massive marine mineral investments
The mineral concentrations in the deep sea are several times higher than on land and China’s investments in technologies for extracting seabed minerals are currently 30 times higher than those of the United States and Europe combined.
These investments have paid off, and China has been awarded the most mineral licenses in international waters. Russia comes in on a second place and with its 24000 kilometers of artic sealine it also holds the largest territorial rights in the Arctic Ocean.
It is easy to understand the Chinese silence when it comes to Russia’s war in Ukraine. If Russia weakens, Chinese influence and access to valuable natural resources in the Arctic increases.
Chinas also depend on Russia to achieve its goal of becomming a maritime great power, this can only be achieved if the country does not face any direct landbased threat. A good partnership with Russia ensures just that.
The mining industry’s biggest problem
In 2030 the need for lithium, cobalt, and copper will be twice as high as today’s production. Simultainiously the concentration in the world’s most productive mines has fallen by 30% in the last fifteen years.
Declining concentration leads to more rock having to be crushed, increases the water consumptions and more rainforrest are being destroyed.
The electrification also increases the need for more expensive metals. For example, the extraction of one kilogram of the most expensive metals requires the crushing of one million kilograms of rock.
Looking a few decades into the future, it is obvious that mineral extraction will take place where the concentrations are the highest and that is in the deep sea.
It’s also obvious that China sees deep sea mining as a potential way to veritcally integrate mineral resources into their supply chain.
An area of future confrontation
China and Russia’s investments in the deep sea also come with a military component. The deep sea is a domain where NATO has very limited capacity. While NATO has weapon systems to locate, track, and defeat most things in space, the capacities within the deep sea domain are almost non-existent.
Deep Sea Mining is a part of the future
When the soon-to-be largest superpower in the world has identified seabed minerals as a priority area in its latest five-year plan, it will happen.
Through refining, China controls the supply chains. Through its seabed mineral investment, China will also control the resources.
In the deep sea, mineral concentrations are several times higher than on land. Looking a few decades ahead, it is obvious that extraction will take place where the concentration is highest and the potential for damage is the least.
An ethical responsibility
When the Norwegian Parliament shall vote for opening the Norwegian Continental Shelf for mineral exploration, it is not a question of whether seabed minerals will be a part of the future.
The question is whether Norway should contribute to balancing a crippled supply chain, while ensuring that the technological, and environmental standards are set as high as possible.
At the same time, Norway will gain valuable experience and technology that will contribute to increased safety and stability in the maritime domain, and by that also on land.
Norway has leading maritime technology and five decades with deep water oil&gas extraction experience.
Norway has natural resources that can help the West maintain negotiating power when faced with a more polarized and fragmented political system.
History has shown us that dependence is vulnerability and the Norwegian Oil and Energy Minister Terje Aasland is right when he says that Norway has a moral and ethical responsibility to contribute minerals to the supply chain.
But the responsibility extends further, all the way to the belief in democratic values and individual freedom.
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