In a fractured governance architecture, the Arctic region is increasingly faced with complex challenges like climate change, indigenous rights and commercialisation. Shedding light on a sorely overlooked topic in the literature – China’s Arctic discourse and strategy – this article applies an inductive, social constructivist approach, utilising qualitative content analysis and constituent dimensions to analyse Chinese Arctic narratives. Seeking to answer the questions: “How has China attempted to position itself as a legitimate actor in the Arctic, and has it been accepted?” and “How will this impact governance architecture in the region?” the results show that China has been accepted a legitimate actor in Arctic governance via a discourse of scientific exploration and cultural ties. Further, an increasingly dissatisfied China is challenging Arctic governance, replacing its scientific engagement narrative with one of commercial engagement, geo-economic power and, ultimately, prestige.
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