China to develop “Arctic silk road”

China has published plans for a "polar silk road", taking advantage of Arctic ice melting to halve the time it takes for a container to reach Rotterdam from Shanghai.

Published in a white paper today, the plan opens the door to Chinese investment in infrastructure along the route.

In November China and Russia decided to cooperate on the polar sea route, building a "silk road on the ice".

The shipping industry is already taking advantage of the receding Arctic ice cap.

Last year a Russian tanker travelled from Norway to South Korea without an icebreaker escort for the first time in a trip that took 19 days, compared with the 48 days it usually takes to travel between northern China and Rotterdam.

And in September a Chinese research ship completed China’s first transit of the North West Passage north of Canada, cutting seven days off the usual route from New York to Shanghai through the Panama Canal.

Polar trade routes (Yale University)

In October 2016, Russia announced that it would build a deepwater port north of Arkhangelsk on Russia’s White Sea. According to a report in The Barents Observer at the time, it was estimated that the throughput for the port would reach 30 million tonnes by 2030. By comparison, the Murmansk Commercial Seaport had a turnover of 16 million tonnes in 2012.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the globe, the Polar Research Institute of China has begun work on building an Antarctic ice station after transferring 250 tonnes of engineering equipment from its Snow Dragon icebreaker to Inexpressible, a small rocky island due south of New Zealand.

The Xinhau news agency reported that the new base, China’s fifth in Antarctica, will be set up inside five years, and will provide year-round support for researchers. The Chinese also plan to establish an observation and monitoring network in the Antarctic and to carry out surveying of marine environmental protection.

Today’s white paper, China’s Arctic Policy, was published by the State Council Information Office.

Top image: The northern passage will halve the time taken to reach Europe (Whitemore Group)

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