polar silk road

China longing for a Polar Silk Road

Following on from their Silk Road direct link, China are now looking to capitalise on a Polar version.

The first silk road train from China to Britain arrived in February of last year – (see our news post at that time for more information)

China now plans to create a Polar Silk Road of new Arctic shipping lanes, to extend the Belt and Road initiative created by President Xi Jinping.China is a non Arctic state, but is becoming more active in the polar region, and even became a member of the Arctic Council back in 2013. The council has eight permanent members made up of the five coastal Arctic countries, Norway, Russia, Canada, U.S. and Denmark, and three non coastal members, Finland, Iceland and Sweden.

They have this week published their Arctic Policy Whitepaper.  in which they set out that as a result of global warming, the Arctic shipping routes are likely to become important transport routes for international trade. China respects the legislative, enforcement and adjudicatory powers of the Arctic States in the waters subject to their jurisdiction.

According to the paper China, as a responsible major country, is ready to cooperate with all relevant parties to seize the historic opportunity in the development of the Arctic, to address the challenges brought by the changes in the region, jointly understand, protect, develop and participate in the governance of the Arctic, and advance Arctic-related cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, so as to build a community with a shared future for mankind and contribute to peace, stability and sustainable development in the Arctic.

Global warming in recent years has accelerated the melting of ice and snow in the Arctic region. As economic globalisation and regional integration further develops and deepens, the Arctic is gaining global significance for its rising strategic, economic values and those relating to scientific research, environmental protection, sea passages, and natural resources.

With the ice melted, conditions for the development of the Arctic may be gradually changed, offering opportunities for the commercial use of sea routes and development of resources in the region. Commercial activities in the region will have considerable impact on global shipping, international trade and energy supply, bring about major social and economic changes, and exert important influence on the way of work and life of Arctic residents including the indigenous peoples.

Shipping through the Northern Sea Route would shave almost 20 days off the regular time using the traditional route through the Suez Canal, the newspaper reported last month.

In 2017 a Russian tanker made the journey from Norway to South Korea without need of an icebreaker for the first time, because of climate change.

However, there are misgivings from other countries who believe this to be an example of rapid Chinese expansion and a chance to use resources that should be beyond their reach.  China refers to itself in the paper as a ’near-Arctic state’ and as such believes that its close geographical location means that the natural conditions of the Arctic and their changes have a direct impact on China’s climate system and ecological environment, and, in turn, on its economic interests in agriculture, forestry, fishery, marine industry and other sectors. However, oil, gas and mineral resources are also part of the rich range of resources that are present in the Arctic, and China seem keen to capitalise on those. Fishing, scientific research and mining are also possibilities and China requests involvement due to the direct impact that the Arctic has on their climate system, ecological environment and economic interests.

Vice-Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said at a briefing “Some people may have misgivings over our participation in the development of the Arctic, worried we may have other intentions, or that we may plunder resources or damage the environment, I believe these kinds of concerns are absolutely unnecessary.”

In the conclusion of the paper, China state that the future of the Arctic concerns the interests of the Arctic States, the wellbeing of non-Arctic States and that of the humanity as a whole. The governance of the Arctic requires the participation and contribution of all stakeholders. On the basis of the principles of “respect, cooperation, win-win result and sustainability”, China, as a responsible major country, is ready to cooperate with all relevant parties to seize the historic opportunity in the development of the Arctic, to address the challenges brought by the changes in the region, jointly understand, protect, develop and participate in the governance of the Arctic, and advance Arctic-related cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, so as to build a community with a shared future for mankind and contribute to peace, stability and sustainable development in the Arctic.

China have already proved their expansion plans through their earlier silk road and belt initiatives which although could take up to half a century to complete, ultimately should succeed. Safeguarding the environment of the arctic has to be a priority in a time of global warming, and with China pushing ahead it is down to the other members of the Arctic Council to make sure that they are doing as they say they would and keeping to the premise that the counties can work together to build a better Arctic for many centuries to come.