26, January 2018
China on Friday outlined its ambitions to extend President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming.
Releasing its first official Arctic policy white paper, China said it would encourage enterprises to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages, paving the way for Arctic shipping routes that would form a “Polar Silk Road”.
The official paper revealed that Beijing would pursue its strategic regional objectives “jointly with Arctic States, while respecting traditions and cultures of the Arctic residents including the indigenous peoples and conserving natural environment”.
“China hopes to work with all parties to build a ‘Polar Silk Road’ through developing the Arctic shipping routes,” the paper, issued by the State Council Information Office, said.
The paper revealed that China also eyes development of oil, gas, mineral resources and other non-fossil energies, fishing and tourism in the region.
Despite being a non-Arctic state, China has gained interest and increased its activity in the polar region.
China, which became an observer member of the Arctic Council in 2013, owns a major stake in Russia’s Yamal liquefied natural gas project.
Yamal has planned to supply China with four million tonnes of LNG a year, according to the state-run China Daily.
Another advantage is that shipping through the Northern Sea Route would save almost 20 days off the regular time using the traditional route through the Suez Canal, the newspaper reported last month. COSCO Shipping has also previously sailed vessels through the Arctic’s northeast passage.
China’s increased activities in the region has prompted concerns from Arctic states over Beijing’s long-term strategic
objectives, including possible military deployment.
“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,” Vice-Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said at a briefing.
“I believe these kinds of concerns are absolutely unnecessary.”
China’s Belt and Road initiative aims to connect China to Europe, the Middle East and beyond via massive infrastructure projects across dozens of countries, reflecting Xi’s desire for China to take on a more prominent global leadership role.