The upgrade in 2013 of China's status in the Arctic Council, from ad-hoc to permanent observer, was a significant step forward for its Arctic policy. Beijing's main political objective in the Arctic is to position itself so that it can have a say in the region's governance, as well as gain access to sea lines of communication and resources. While China's intensifying activity in the Arctic is often viewed with suspicion, it is part of a strategy of general expansion of its maritime interests and capabilities, seeking a level of influence to match its global economic status.
As Arctic sea ice decreases as a result of climate change, the region has often been portrayed as a treasure trove of mineral resources waiting to be exploited, with new shipping routes opening up to change global trade patterns. The Arctic is now a global concern, and non-Arctic states are increasingly vocal about their interests in the region.
Chinese academics describe their country as a 'near-Arctic' state, and it is often argued by domestic commentators that governance of the region should not be limited to countries with Arctic territories. Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo said in 2010 that 'the Arctic belongs to all the people around the world, as no nation has sovereignty over it … China must play an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world's population.'
The Arctic Council is the most important regional body, although its decisions are not legally binding and it has no enforcement powers. China had been an ad-hoc observer since 2007, but was required to apply to send delegates to attend Council meetings. With its new status, granted in May 2013, China has more opportunities to present its position at meetings, and can also convene talks with regional decision-makers on the sidelines of the Council's meetings. Permanent observers do not have voting rights, but the advantage for China is to strengthen its case for being considered a regional stakeholder.