In today’s global landscape, characterized by a bipolar world order with China and the United States as superpowers, the expertise of individuals such as Lanteigne, who is not only an expert on China but also conducts research on the Arctic region, is invaluable. The consequences of the melting Arctic ice are challenging to predict, including the potential emergence of a central transportation route and the distribution of investments and power in the region. However, it is evident that possessing comprehensive knowledge and making thorough preparations are among the most effective tools at our disposal.

Marc Lanteigne is an associate professor in political science at UiT – The Arctic University of Norway.  He holds a PhD from McGill University. His research interests encompass China and foreign policy in East Asia, Chinese collaboration with regional and international organizations, Sino-European and Sino-Arctic relations, trade policy, and China’s economic diplomacy. 

Marc, what are you working on in these days? 

Too many things! In addition to my international relations teaching, I continue to research Chinese and East Asian interests in the Arctic and more recently the questions of Sino-Russian Arctic cooperation. With colleagues at UiT, I am also helping to develop the University’s contributions to geopolitical studies in Norway, as well as current issues of hybrid conflict and ‘non-traditional’ security via the Grey Zone research network based here. I also currently writing on China’s digital currency strategies and how international finance may be opening up as another strategic arena, and co-teaching a course on environmental politics and security at the University of Greenland later this year. 

From your field of expertise, what is the biggest challenge facing our society in the near future?

Norway finds itself on the front line of many political and strategic issues now facing the Arctic. In addition to the expansion of NATO into the Nordic region, the country is also finding itself facing challenges relating to information and disinformation, and having to navigate many environmental challenges facing the region while adjusting to calls for a green transition. As a small state, Norway has developed a strong reputation for being an active player diplomatically but is now facing a greatly changed international milieu. Great power politics are seen to be ‘back’, (assuming they ever left), but the conditions have certainly changed just over the past five years. 

With your academic expertise, where are your thoughts on the new bipolar world order with US and China?

Compared with the previous century, what we are seeing now is a less defined and arguably messier form of bipolarity. Competition is much less over ideology, and rather the emphasis has been competing forms of rules, norms and power. Despite ongoing talk in both Beijing and Washington about ‘decoupling’ economies, trade between the two powers remains the cornerstone of the global economy, and many other countries including Norway are not enthusiastic about having to choose sides in a trade conflict. Adding to this is the ongoing question of Russia, not as a great power but as a strategic wild card, questions about the development of new centers of power amongst emerging states and regions, and whether both the United States and Europe potentially turn more towards isolationism and protectionism.

What are your views on the future of Chinese investment and presence in the Arctic region?

Compared with the very ambitious plans in Beijing to develop joint ventures and investments across the Arctic a decade ago, there is now much more of a somber mood within the Chinese government as to the limitations of its Arctic policies. Many investment plans, including in Nordic region, have not been successful either due to financial constraints or political pushback. While China still hopes to take advantage of the overall opening of the Arctic for economic gains, the country is finding itself more closely tied to Russia’s Arctic interests. This has been uncomfortable for both countries, Moscow worries about China’s longer term strategic plans for the Arctic and becoming dependent on Chinese economic power, while Beijing is concerned about Russia’s longer term economic and political stability. So, China will continue to engage the European Arctic for potential trade and investment, but the strategic landscape here has, needless to say, changed significantly.

Do you have any thoughts on how business/municipalities and/or central authorities should relate to China as an actor in the north?

Although the Polar Silk Road, which China and Russia ambitiously launched seven years ago, has stalled due to financial and geopolitical concerns, Beijing is still hopefully to engage the European Arctic in new economic projects, and to counter what it sees as a US-led attempts to de-legitimise Chinese interests in the far north. While I remain a sceptic of the supposed ‘inevitable’ Sino-Russian pact in the Arctic, Chinese scientific interests in the region pose a considerable ‘dual use’ challenge, which has been acknowledged in the Norwegian government and more frequently in Northern Norway. There needs to be much more of a northern discussion about where China fits in current security challenges facing this neighbourhood.

Is there something you would like to learn more about?

I am looking forward to learning more about how different actors in Norway, not just policymakers but also other important contributors, are now perceiving Arctic challenges in the form of both hard power politics but also challenges to environmental and human security. 

Why did you want to be a non-resident fellow to UTSYN?

There has been so much debate, not only in Norway but also in Europe and beyond, as to how we should be defining ‘security’ today, with arguments ranging from traditional military concerns to more critical approaches which look at the human condition and of course climate change. UTSYN has been a major player in bringing these debates forward but also including more voices in the process.