STATE DEPARTMENT - A group of eight Arctic countries, including the United States and Russia, reaffirmed Tuesday a commitment to "maintain peace, stability and constructive cooperation" as well as to the well-being of those who live in the Arctic.
In a joint statement issued after a meeting of foreign ministers in Finland, the members of the Arctic Council also made pledges for sustainable development and protecting the environment.
The signatories included the top diplomats from Canada, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and the United States.
A senior U.S. State Department official said the group had worked on several versions of a more detailed agreement, but ultimately decided to endorse "a simpler, positive, unified, collective message."
The end of the talks came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States would increase its military presence in the polar region with an aim at countering China and Russia's expansion there.
"We are hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, expanding Coast Guard funding, and creating a new senior military post for Arctic affairs inside our own military," Pompeo said Monday.
"The region has become an area of global power and competition," said the secretary of state.
The top U.S. diplomat's warning comes days after a Pentagon report said China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence.
In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang pushed back, saying China has been adhering to the path of "peaceful development" and asked the United States to abandon "the outdated concept of Cold War mentality and the zero-sum game."
With the steady reductions in sea ice in the polar region, new naval passageways and trade opportunities are seen to be opening up.
Last month, Russia announced plans to connect the Northern Sea Route with China's Maritime "Silk Road," a move seen as developing a new shipping channel from Asia to northern Europe.
Meanwhile, China's interest in the Arctic has been on the rise in recent years.
"China hopes to work with all parties to build a Polar Silk Road through developing the Arctic shipping routes,"said Beijing on its Arctic policy.
Sounding the alarm of China's ambition, Pompeo is rejecting interference by non-Arctic countries in the polar region.
"There are only Arctic states and non-Arctic states. No third category exists," said Pompeo during his speech in Finland.
Chinese officials attending the Arctic Council meeting as observers said China is a "near-Arctic state," a definition refuted by the U.S.
"I have no earthly idea what they mean when they say they're a near-Arctic country. Perhaps they can provide a definition," Pompeo told the media later on Monday.
Some experts said a competitive U.S. military posture for the Arctic should also come with diplomatic engagement with the Arctic nations.
"The increasingly challenged global commons require not just able U.S. military capacity, but a diplomatic strategy to find a balance of interests and new norms, rules and codes of conduct," Atlantic Council's senior fellow Robert Manning told VOA on Monday.
Chinese officials said Beijing's investments in the Arctic region, seen as an extension of Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature Belt and Road Initiative, are "open, inclusive and transparent."
But U.S. officials argued China's Belt and Road Initiative is about "using government power to achieve national security objectives."
"The United States and Arctic nations welcome transparent Chinese investment that reflects economic interests, not national security ambitions," said Pompeo.
Military officials from Russia and China said both countries intended to regularly conduct joint war games, following last September's massive Vostok (East) 2018 military exercises that span extensive regions of Siberia, Russia's Far East, the Arctic and the Pacific oceans. China was invited for the first time to join the drill.
In May of 2013, China became an "observer state" of the Arctic Council with the help of Iceland. Last year, a China-Iceland Arctic Research Observatory was established in Karholl, Iceland.
The Arctic houses13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, and an abundance of resources, including uranium,rare earth minerals, and millions of square kilometers of untapped fisheries.