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The office of the UN Deputy Secretary General and reforms of the United Nations system

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On 31 May 2018, UN Secretary General, in his remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York at the adoption of the resolution on repositioning the UN development system stated, “The resolution you adopt today ushers in the most ambitious and comprehensive transformation of the UN development system in decades. It sets the foundation to reposition sustainable development at the heart of the United Nations.” The UNSG went on to add, “I will move immediately to put in place a transition team under the leadership of the Deputy Secretary General to implement your decisions. This team will work in the same open, transparent and inclusive way we have conducted this process thus far and ensure the inclusion of our funds, programmes and specialized agencies.” Why did the UNSG vest the important task of reform of the UN development system in the Deputy Secretary General? More fundamentally, what is this office and what is its background? This article looks into twenty years of the role and impact of the UN Deputy Secretary General in promoting reforms of the organization and also shares some thoughts on the way forward for this institution.

Founding Resolution

The institution of the UN Deputy Secretary General is not mentioned in the UN Charter. Twenty years ago, on 2 March 1998, Canadian national, Louise Fréchette was appointed as the first Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations [DSG] by then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and remained at her post until 31 March 2006. The post of DSG was established by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution A/RES/52/21 B dated 9 January 1998.

The responsibilities of the DSG, by terms of the GA resolution, were those “delegated by the Secretary General…” and included the following five broad categories:

To assist the Secretary-General in managing the operations of the Secretariat;

To act for the Secretary-General at United Nations Headquarters in the absence of the Secretary-General and in other cases as may be decided by the Secretary-General;

To support the Secretary-General  in  ensuring  intersectoral  and  inter-institutional  coherence  of activities and programmes and to support the Secretary-General in elevating the profile and leadership of the United Nations in the economic and social spheres, including further efforts to strengthen the United Nations as a leading centre for development policy and development assistance;

To  represent  the  Secretary-General  at  conferences,  official  functions  and  ceremonial  and  other occasions as may be decided by the Secretary-General;

To undertake such assignments as may be determined by the Secretary-General;

The same GA resolution also further noted “…that the Secretary-General will appoint the Deputy Secretary-General following consultations with Member States and in accordance with Article 101 of the Charter of the United Nations and that the term of office of the Deputy Secretary-General will not exceed that of the Secretary-General.

Distinguished diplomats and international civil servants

According to the information sheet about Louise Fréchette, the UN website observes, “As Deputy Secretary-General, Ms. Fréchette assisted the Secretary-General in the full range of his responsibilities and also represented the United Nations at conferences and official functions. She chaired the Steering Committee on Reform and Management Policy and the Advisory Board of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), which handles relations with the foundation set up by Ted Turner in support of the United Nations.”. Since 31 March 2006, there have been four DSGs including the serving Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, a Nigerian national who took charge on 28 February 2017. Louise Fréchette was succeeded by British national Mark Malloch Brown on 3 March 2006 (and remained till December 2006). Tanzanian national, Asha-Rose Migiro was the third DSG to be appointed and took office on 1 February 2007. She remained in her post until the end of June 2012. Jan Eliasson of Sweden was the fourth Deputy Secretary-General to be appointed and took office on 1 July 2012 until the end of December 2016. Invariably, all DSGs have come to their jobs after substantial UN and diplomatic experience. Before joining the United Nations, Ms. Louise Fréchette was the Deputy Minister of National Defence of Canada from 1995 to 1998. Prior to that, she was Associate Deputy Minister in her country’s Department of Finance. She served as Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations from 1992 to 1995. The shortest serving DSG, Mark Malloch Brown served as Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General since January 2005 and before that served as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN’s global development network, from July 1999 to August 2005. The third DSG, Dr. Migiro served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation from 2006-2007, the first woman in the United Republic of Tanzania to hold that position since its independence in 1961. Before that, she was Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children for five years. Dr. Migiro’s successor as DSG, Mr. Jan Eliasson was from 2007-2008 the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Darfur. He was Sweden’s Ambassador to the US from September 2000 until July 2005. Most recently, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed was Minister of Environment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from November 2015 to December 2016 and prior to this, she served as Special Adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Post-2015 Development Planning.

Supporting the UN Secretary General in reforms

The first Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette was actively involved in reforms of the United Nations system. Special mention may be made of the Millenium Summit in the year 2000, when world leaders congregated at the UNGA in New York from 6 to 8 September and adopted the Millennium Declaration which, inter alia, identified the MDGs; resolved to reaffirm the central position of the United Nations General Assembly; intensify efforts for a comprehensive reform of the Security Council in all its aspects; further strengthen the Economic and Social Council and the International Court of Justice; encourage regular consultations and coordination among the Organization’s principal organs; ensure greater policy coherence and urge the Secretariat to make the best use of resources, which should be provided on a timely and predictable basis. Ms. Louise Fréchette has subsequently also been involved, after demitting office of DSG, in reforms of UN peacekeeping operations. Though he served as DSG only very briefly (March to December 2006), Mark Malloch Brown, had in his position as Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General since January 2005 worked closely with the Secretary-General and the Deputy-Secretary General on all aspects of UN work, including helping to set out an ambitious reform agenda for the United Nations, much of which was endorsed by world leaders at the World Summit in New York in September 2005.

The third DSG, Ms. Asha-Rose Migiro worked on the “Delivering as One” scheme which was launched in 2007 to respond to global challenges and test how the UN can provide more coordinated development assistance in countries that volunteered to become pilot cases – Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay, and Vietnam. In her remarks at the end of the 4th High-level Conference on Delivering as One in Montevideo, Uruguay on 10 November 2011, Dr. Migiro said that the initiative had empowered UN Resident Coordinators and country teams, noting the that coordinators now had greater role in helping articulate programmes and allocate resources around national priorities. “We must forge ahead with strengthening the Resident Coordinator system. All organizations must give priority to implementing the Management and Accountability System for the UN Development and Resident Coordinator System,” she stressed.

The now, the here and the way forward

Jan Eliasson, who had served as President of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly, had actually been a visiting lecturer on mediation, conflict resolution and UN reform at Uppsala University since 1988. In a detailed interview in 2014, Jan Eliasson identified the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ functions of the DSG. Speaking of the former set of functions, he said, “…it has been to try to bring the different entities together, use the fact that I have a different portfolio from my predecessor, who had management and development. I have political affairs and development and rule of law. So, management is done mainly by the chef de cabinet.” About the latter, he observed, “I will be also looking into the external role. One area where I have profiled myself very strongly, also publicly, where I will probably do more, is on water and sanitation. We launched the Call for Action on sanitation, and that will be followed up. It was met with a tremendously positive reaction.”. Current DSG, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed has conducted ‘robust consultations’ with Member States since the third quarter of 2017 on the UN development system reform process as part of UNSG Guterres’ efforts unveiled in a report of 30 June 2017. In a speech at the UN ECOSOC in October 2017, DSG Amina J. Mohammed stressed, “The 2030 Agenda is the guide and framework for the United Nations development system.”

Yet another area where the UN is engaged in terms of changes is the work culture at the Secretariat and within the organization. The Organization itself has identified three key issues that deserve maximum attention and commitment from the entire leadership of the United Nations: promoting gender parity; combating sexual exploitation and abuse; and addressing sexual harassment within the organizations of the United Nations system. A final area, among many others, that the DSG is focusing attention is in the sphere of privacy, data protection and ethics in the use of big data for the SDGs. The role of Information and Communication Technologies as an enabler for achieving the SDGs is well acknowledged; but regional inequities and the limitations of the existing norms that govern these technologies continue to hinder progress. In a sense it is remarkable that structural innovations like the DSG have been allowed to thrive within a large bureaucracy like the UN system. At the same time, the record of the last twenty years throws up a mixed bag. Perhaps this has more to do with the changing attitudes of the nation states that make up the UN. Nevertheless, the UN would do well to persist with the reforms and transformation process and the DSG can and must continue to play a constructive role in this.

Dr. Sunod Jacob The Peninsula Foundation Former Legal Advisor, ICRC Former Associate Professor of Law, GD Goenka University The author can be reached at sunod.jacob[at]thepeninsula.org.in

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International Law

Russia-Ukraine War, China and World Peace

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image source: war.ukraine.ua photo: Vadim Ghirda

On May 3, when asked about the possible causes of the Ukrainian tragedy, His Holiness Pope Francis speculated about an “anger” probably “facilitated initially by NATO’s barking at Russia’s door. I cannot say whether this anger was provoked, but it was probably facilitated”.

What do the Pope’s words mean? In short, they mean that in international relations – of which the Holy See is Master of the Art – two things count: respect for the other and ignorance. The former is to be always placed as a founding element of peace, the latter is to be eradicated, especially in countries like Italy and in many others, as a factor of war.

Why was the Soviet Union respected and why the same respect and consideration is not owed to Russia? Why with the Soviet Union, after the normalisation of the Prague Spring, did a still divided but wise Europe (today, instead, united only by the banks’ and bankers’ money) and a sharp-witted West, with Russia’s agreement, launch the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe? Why instead did a powerless Europe, a semi-colony of the United States of America – with the UK as the 51st star on its flag – together with the White House, pretend not to see what was happening in Ukraine? Why did they turn a blind eye to this conflict, which has been going on since 2014, and fomented the rise to power of people who, by inciting hatred against Russia, were under the illusion that NATO would come to their aid, turning Europe into a pool of blood for their purposes?

Do some people probably believe that Russia is still that of Yeltsin, ready to open up – in every sense – to the first master coming along? These are the cases in which respect is lacking and ignorance triumphs.

As to an example of ongoing and consistent respect in foreign affairs, it is useful to comment on a recent speech delivered on April 21 by China’s President Xi Jinping, which developed several points.

He pointed out that, for over two years, the international community has made strenuous efforts to meet the challenge of COVID-19 and promote economic recovery and development in the world. He added that the difficulties and challenges show that the international community has a shared future for better or for worse, and that the various countries must strive for peace, development, and win-win cooperation so as to work together and tackle the different problems that gradually emerge on the scene.

With a view to facing the health emergency, China has provided over 2.1 billion vaccine doses to over 120 countries and international organisations and it will continue to make the pledged donations of 600 million doses to African countries and 150 million doses to the countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to proactively help bridge the vaccine gap.

With specific reference to the economic recovery, President Xi Jinping pledged to keep on building an economy open to the world, strengthening macroeconomic policy coordination and preserving the stability of industrial and supply chains, as well as promoting balanced, coordinated and inclusive development globally. He said: “People need to be put first and development and social welfare must be prioritised. It is important to promote pragmatic studies in priority areas such as poverty reduction, security, food, development finance and industrialisation, as well as work on solving the issue of unbalanced and insufficient development, and move forward by establishing job creation initiatives.”

With regard to the recent war clashes, President Xi Jinping deems necessary to jointly safeguard world peace and security. I wish to add that the Cold War-style mentality – what is happening in Ukraine, i.e. the West disrespecting Russia, considering it an enemy as in the past, but not as strong as in the days of the CPSU – can only undermine world peace. Hegemonism aimed at conquering Eurasia – as the land that holds the remaining raw materials on the planet – and the policy of the strongest country can only undermine world peace. The clash of blocs can only worsen the security challenges of the 21st century.

Why, while the Warsaw Pact (of which the People’s Republic of China was never a member and never wanted to be a member) was dissolved, did the same not happen with NATO? China has always wanted to promote world peace, never wanting to be part of aggressive and barking alliances.

China pledges to advance the vision of common, integrated, cooperative and sustainable security and to jointly preserve world peace and security. It pledges to respect all countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity; to pursue non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs, and to respect the development path and social system chosen by peoples. It pledges to abide by the aims and principles of the UN Charter; to reject the warmongering mentality (opposing the good countries by default vs. the bad ones conventionally); to oppose unilateralism and to reject the policy of bloc confrontation. China takes all countries’ security concerns and legitimate interests into account. It pursues the principle of indivisible responsibilities and builds a balanced and effective security architecture. It opposes one country seeking its own security by fomenting insecurities in the others. China seeks dialogue and consultation, as well as peaceful solutions to inter-State differences and disputes. It supports all efforts for the peaceful settlement of crises. It refrains from double standards and rejects the arbitrary use of unilateral extraterritorial sanctions and jurisdictions.

It is crucial to adopt a comprehensive approach to maintain security and respond together to regional disputes and planetary challenges such as terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity and biosecurity.

Global governance challenges must be addressed together. The world countries are on an equal footing when it comes to sharing fortunes and misfortunes. It is unacceptable to try to throw anyone overboard. The international community is currently a sophisticated and integrated device. Removing one of its components makes it very difficult for it to function, to the detriment of the party that is deprived by others of its own guarantees that call into question the very existence of a State – such as trying to deploy nuclear warheads a few kilometres from a capital city.

Only the principles of broad consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits can promote the common values of humanity, foster exchanges and inspire reciprocity between different civilisations. No one should believe to be better than another by divine grace or manifest destiny.

True and genuine multilateralism must be pursued and the international system centred on the United Nations and the world order based on international law must firmly be preserved. Great countries, in particular, must set an example in terms of respect for equality, cooperation, credibility and the rule of law to be worthy of their greatness.

In ten years of President Xi Jinping’s leadership, Asia has maintained overall stability and achieved fast and sustained growth, thus creating the “Asian miracle”. If Asia does well, the whole world will benefit. Asia has continued to strive to develop, build and maintain its strength, i.e. the basic wisdom that makes the continent a stabilising anchor of peace, an engine of growth and a pioneer of international cooperation.

These achievements come from as far back as the aforementioned Chinese refusal to join aggressive military blocs. They are based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence drafted by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai on December 31, 1953, published on April 29, 1954, and reaffirmed at the Bandung Conference on April 18-24, 1955: (i) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; (ii) mutual non-aggression; (iii) mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; (iv) equality and cooperation for mutual benefit; (v) peaceful coexistence.  

They are based on the Eight Principles for Foreign Aid and Economic and Technical Assistance proposed by the aforementioned Zhou Enlai before the Somali Parliament on February 3, 1964, which became the emblem of China’s presence in Africa: (i) China always bases itself on the principle of equality and mutual benefit in providing aid to other nations; (ii) China never attaches any conditions or asks for any privileges; (iii) China helps lighten the burden of recipient countries as much as possible; (iv) China aims at helping recipient countries to gradually achieve self-reliance and independent development; (v) China strives to develop aid projects that require less investment but yield quicker results; (vi) China provides the best-quality equipment and materials of its own manufacture; (vii) in providing technical assistance, China shall ensure that the personnel of the recipient country fully master such techniques; (viii) Chinese experts are not allowed to make any special demands or enjoy any special amenities.

Over the last ten years President Xi Jinping has successfully applied the Chinese doctrine in international relations, following and implementing his country’s multi-millennial traditions of diplomacy. ASEAN’s central place and role in the regional architecture has been strengthened in Asia, preserving the order that takes all parties’ aspirations and interests into account. Each country, whether large or small, powerful or weak, inside or outside the region, contributes to the success of Asia’s development, without creating war frictions. Each country follows the path of peace and development, promotes win-win cooperation and builds a large family of Asian progress.

The ASEAN countries are the following: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam (Papua New Guinea and East Timor as observers).

Furthermore, the fundamentals of China’s economy – its strong resilience, huge potential, ample room for manoeuvre and long-term sustainability – remain unchanged. They will provide great dynamism for the stability and recovery of the world economy and wider market opportunities for all countries.

The People’s Republic of China will be fully committed to its new development rationale. It will step up the establishment of a new growth paradigm, and redouble its efforts for high-quality development. China will promote high standards; expand the catalogue for the creation of new computer software; improve investment promotion services and add more cities to the comprehensive pilot programme for opening up the service sector.

China will take concrete steps to develop its pilot free trade zones and the Hainan Free Trade Port will be in line with high-standard international economic and trade rules and will move forward with the institutional opening process.

China will seek to conclude high-level free trade agreements with more countries and regions and will proactively endeavour to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA).

China is moving forward with the Silk Road (Belt and Road) cooperation to make it increasingly high-level, sustainable and people-centred. China will firmly follow the path of peaceful development and will always be a builder of world peace, as well as a contributor to global development and a defender of the international order.

Over the last ten years, under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, the People’s Republic of China has been following the old Chinese saying: “Keep walking and you will not be discouraged by a thousand miles; make steady efforts and you will not be intimidated by a thousand tasks”.

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International Law

The More Things Change…

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The brutality of ethnic cleansing is complete.  It does not distinguish between mother and son, young and old, child or adult.  It goes about its gruesome business without conscience or moral compensation.  It is the conversion of man into an unthinking beast.  It is Putin, Zelensky, Modi and Xi Jinping … all rolled into one.  It is us.  The seed is there, needing only fertile soil to germinate. 

The EU announces more aid to Ukraine — mostly military aid; the US announces more aid to Ukraine — mostly military aid.  The Ukrainians saying ‘we will never surrender’ continue to fight.  The Russians asking for talks are not backing down.  Ukraine’s real value to the world is as an exporter of grain which helps to stabilize grain prices.  Feeding a war therefore, runs counter to such stability.

On the heels of covid and its inflationary fallout, who wants a rise in food prices?  Not India, not Africa, not the EU and Russians are already feeling the pinch.  Perhaps grain exporters in North America could be an exception.  Yet at what cost?

According to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, the Security Council failed to prevent the war or to end it.  How can it when the most influential member and its European allies are busy funding it?

Human strife is displayed on almost every continent.  Stone throwing at ultra-nationalists by Palestinians after Friday prayers is a routine accompanied sometimes by tragedy.  One side provokes, the other side retaliates.  Stones are thrown, fights  breakout.  The authorities respond and more Palestinians are killed — fifteen last Wednesday.  Is this the big story in Israel?  Of course not.

A TV report accused millionaire Naftali Bennet, the current prime minister, of extravagant expenditure from the public purse at his home, which currently serves as his official residence.

Mr. Bennett disclosed that $26,400 of taxpayer money was spent on his home each month including a $7,400 food bill.  His defense avers that his conduct is within the rules and that his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu spent, on average, $84,300 per month during his tenure.

Noting his efforts at parsimony, he pointed out he did not employ a cook as he is entitled to.  Instead, the family sent out to restaurants, presumably the best ones, to have food delivered.  Sensitive to the criticism, he states he will henceforth pay for all the food from his own picket.

Sara Netanyahu, his predecessor’s wife, had to admit misusing public funds during a similar scandal and was obliged to pay a $15,000 fine.  The prime minister is paid $16,500 per month — average monthly salary in Israel is $3,500.

Plus ça change …

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International Law

China, the Arctic, and International Law

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arctic silk road

The Arctic involves the interests of several major international actors, and climate change, which necessitates the search for more resources and increases the availability of resources in the region, makes the region more important than ever. In this regard, states are divided into “Arctic states” and “non-Arctic states,” with the former having territorial sovereignty and jurisdiction over the region and the latter not. Nonetheless, non-Arctic states have certain rights, such as freedom of navigation in the Arctic states’ EEZs, as granted by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Xinmin, 2019). Parts of the region that are not under the sovereignty of any state are referred to as the “common heritage of mankind.” Because of its appeal, the region attracts states that are not in the Arctic Circle, with China being one of the most interested. China’s interest in the region can be explained by the country’s need for more resources. First, food security issues are likely to arise in China in the near future, and they must be addressed. Fish resources in the South China Sea have been steadily declining, and China must replace them. Second, China, which relies heavily on imported energy sources, is aware of the growing hostility toward itself and may face a blockage of vital energy resources if the situation worsens. Access to more Arctic sources may assist China in diversifying its risk (Francis, 2020).

Initially, the United States, Canada, and Russia saw China’s interest in the region as a threat to their territorial sovereignty. China joined the Arctic Council as an observer after officially recognizing Arctic states’ territorial sovereignty over the region (Arctic Council, 2021). Observers have limited rights in comparison to member states, which are all littoral states. Observers, for example, do not have the right to vote, and their participation in projects is not always possible (Ghattas, 2013). Nonetheless, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows China to participate in fisheries decision-making processes, specifically the catch limit (Francis, 2020). In fact, China participated in the Agreement to Prevent High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean to ban commercial fishing for 16 years in 2018 (Francis, 2020). In addition to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, relevant treaties include the UN Charter, International Maritime Organization rules, environmental treaties, and domestic laws of Arctic States (Xinmin, 2019).

In 2018, China published a White Paper outlining its Arctic ambitions. According to the White Paper, China is an active participant in Arctic governance and will remain committed to all relevant treaties and agreements. China has stated unequivocally that it has no intention of challenging any Arctic state and intends to cooperate in the peaceful use of the region (Xinmin, 2019). The White Paper was most memorable for China’s self-description as a “near-Arctic” state, emphasizing China’s geographical proximity to the Arctic Circle. It may imply that China associates itself with a new category that could be used to legitimize its actions in the region. However, former US State Secretary Mike Pompeo criticized this statement, claiming that there were only Arctic and non-Arctic states, implying that the category of “near Arctic” did not exist and did not entitle China to any special rights. Although other Arctic states did not respond positively to the statement, several of them, including Canada and Russia, indicated a willingness to cooperate with China and eventually accept Chinese investments. China is eager to invest in natural resource extraction, scientific research, and infrastructure. China has already invested more than $90 billion, and one of its major projects is the “Polar Silk Road,” an extension of the BRI.

As of now, China has not committed any serious violations of the law in the Arctic. However, experts are divided on whether China will violate international law in the Arctic. One of the arguments is that China is likely to violate the law because it has already violated it in numerous cases, including the South China Sea dispute. Despite the fact that the United Nations has labeled China’s actions in the South China Sea as aggressive, China has largely ignored criticisms. (Francis, 2020). Therefore, supporters of the first argument believe that there will be nothing to stop a country from breaking the law if it prefers to ignore international institutions in some cases. Another argument is that the situation in the Arctic is vastly different from the situation in the South China Sea, and thus it is unreasonable to expect China to engage in similar activities (Buchanan & Strating, 2020). First, there are other great powers in the Arctic region, such as Russia and the United States, which creates a balance of power. Second, the Arctic is governed harmoniously by the Arctic Council through a series of agreements and treaties, whereas the South China Sea has long been a source of contention. Finally, while China is very close to the South China Sea and could potentially expand its territory there, it is not a littoral state in the Arctic and would not be interested in claiming territory in such a remote and logistically difficult region.

For the time being, the second argument appears more convincing because China has been following the law in the region. However, it is difficult to predict how it will act in the face of adversity. Climate change appears to be ongoing, and global warming is likely to allow access to even more resources in the Arctic. Furthermore, climate change is one of the factors that is expected to contribute to food insecurity (WEF, 2022). In that case, competition for the Arctic will inevitably intensify. China has already made investments in the region and declared itself a “near-Arctic state,” implying that it has long-term plans for the region. Therefore, China’s demands and actions need to be taken seriously. Although cooperation in the Arctic is encouraged, tolerance for violations of international law in the region by any state may weaken stability and increase the likelihood of conflict in the long run. To be able to rise smoothly in the Arctic, China must adopt an inclusive strategy and think beyond its own interests, as several major international actors have stakes in the matter (Liu, 2020).

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