The Northwest Territories government says that China is interested in setting up a Northern Canadian research outpost, but researchers are saying the move should be welcomed, as long as Canada gets to help shape the research.

John Higginbotham

Arctic policy expert John Higginbotham says that China isn't overstepping its bounds by looking to do research in the Canadian Arctic, but it doesn't need its own facility to do so. (Submitted by John Higginbotham)

The Chinese government is interested in setting up a research outpost in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., or Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, according to a representative from the N.W.T. government. Both communities are located on the Arctic Ocean, and Cambridge Bay is the future home of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station.

China has been interested in Arctic resources for years. In 2012, it applied for observer status on the Arctic Council, a request that was granted in 2013.

John Higginbotham, senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs and the Centre for International Governance Innovation and Arctic policy expert, knows that China is eyeing the Arctic's resource wealth, but says that Canada should welcome researchers, as long as they can ensure that Chinese research adds and builds on work already done by Canada.

"I am not at all concerned that we, Canada, cannot well protect our sovereign interest... while at the same time finding important areas of co-operation and common interest with China," says Higginbotham.

"I think that would be the way to go for China to have a contribution to scientific co-operation."

Interest could mean more research funding

China's presence in the region also means more cash, which could be a boon to Canadian scientists, according to Arctic researcher James Drummond of Dalhousie University. According to Drummond, the federal government cut funding for research in the region, which has led to the closure of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Research.

James Drummond

James Drummond says Chinese interest in the North could bring new funds to Arctic researchers, which have been cut by the federal government. (Submitted by James Drummond)

"I know that researchers are struggling to maintain their programs and do what's needed," says Drummond. "This government tends to look at most research through the lens of economic development, so there has been some shifts in the research funding."

Neither Higginbotham nor Drummond thinks the Chinese need their own research base, however, and suggested that China work at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, which is now being constructed in Cambridge Bay.

"Much of the research is purely scientific and almost a question of contributing to universal knowledge on these things," says Higginbotham.

"I think if such a quantum leap in Chinese interest in the Arctic were to take place, we are very well placed to shape that co-operation through this new organization called CHARS."