China can play a bigger role in the increasingly ice-free Arctic, using its investment advantages and the size of its markets and labour force, but it is "far from becoming a power player in the Arctic", said the head of the polar strategic research division under the Polar Research Institute of China.
"As a latecomer, China has a lot of homework to do to learn more about the rapidly changing region and then to better serve the country's development," Zhang Xia, who is also deputy chief of the new China-Nordic Arctic Research Center, told China Daily.
On Dec 10, the centre in Shanghai was officially inaugurated when 10 research institutions from China, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden signed an agreement to boost cooperation in Arctic research.
Zhang's comments came amid increased jostling by the major Arctic powers for control in the region, which is believed to hold rich mineral and energy resources as well as emerging shipping opportunities.
The five nations with territory near the Arctic circle - Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States and Denmark (through Greenland) - are currently allotted an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles from their northern coasts.
In December, the Canadian government asked scientists to work on a submission to the United Nations, saying that the outer limits of Canada's territory include the North Pole.
Shortly after Ottawa's announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's military to increase its focus on the Arctic. Moscow made a similar claim to the UN in 2001.
The rising political temperature in the Arctic coincided with the latest wave of suspicion about China's "ambition" in the region, after it gained long-awaited observer status in the Arctic Council in May.