China Moves Belt and Road Initiative to Arctic
Sent Ship Northward for Science, Then New Trade Route Announced
China’s state news agency Xinhua reported last month that a Chinese ship had conducted a successful test of a trading route along the Arctic Northwest Passage.
The Xue Long (or Snow Dragon) traveled for 2,300 nautical miles through waters claimed by Canada for eight days. Xinhua proclaimed the voyage and would provide “a wealth of navigation experience” for future Chinese ships.
The announcement from Beijing confused the Canadians who claim sovereignty over the waters transited by the Xue Long. The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian government thought the the Snow Dragon was on scientific research trip along with the Canadian scientists who were also on board.
One expert noted that China is “preparing for a very substantial increase in the amount of shipping.” “It is obvious this is going into the planning to a degree that we don’t see in Western shipping companies,” Arctic expert and professor Rob Huebert told the Globe and Mail.
China’s move raised concerns that China is headed for large-scale shipping through the route, despite environmental issues and disputed territorial claims in the area.
In recent years, the continued disappearance of Arctic sea ice has fueled projections for the Arctic as a new international trade route.
For China, the Northwest Passage could become a new notch in its multibillion-dollar logistics program known as the Belt and Road Initiative. The appeal includes the shortening of trade routes between China and North America. A Shanghai-to-New York route , for example, stretches 10,500 nautical miles through the Suez Canal. The Northwest Passage would cut that route by nearly 2,000 nautical miles and seven days of transit time.
China is not an Arctic country, but became an observer to the Arctic Council in 2013, a monument to its perceived interests in the region. It has also nurtured a close economic relationship with Iceland and has taken steps that arguably support Canada’s claims of sovereignty in the region, claims which are disputed by the United States and others.
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