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‘Ice Silk Road’ presents opportunities for Eurasian connectivity, Arctic development

YAN YONG | 2018-01-04 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Members of the Chinese expedition team work near the Arctic Ocean. (PHOTO: XINHUA)

At a recent forum, scholars said the “Ice Silk Road” will strengthen cooperation and infrastructure connectivity in Eurasia and boost the development of the Arctic.

Under the theme “Northeast Asia Regional Cooperation within the Framework of the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative,” the first Northeast Asia Silk Road Forum was held on Dec. 16, 2017 in Changchun, capital of Northeast China’s Jilin Province. It was co-hosted by Jilin Provincial Research Center for Northeast Asian Studies and the Trilateral Cooperation Studies Center.

The Ice Silk Road stretches from the northern coast of northwestern Europe in the west to Vladivostok in the east by way of the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea and the Bering Strait. The shortest sea route connecting Northeast Asia and Western Europe, it is one-third the distance of traditional routes. It mainly passes through the relatively stable environment of northern Russia, which reduces the threat of political turmoil and terrorism.

Scholars said that the development of the Ice Silk Road will provide a new route for connecting the eastern and western ends of Eurasia and contribute to the exploitation of oil and gas in the Arctic.

China has paid much attention to the Ice Silk Road. In 2015, the joint communiqué for the 20th regular meeting of Russian and Chinese heads of government proposed strengthening cooperation in the development and utilization of the Northern Sea Route. Then the two sides reached a series of agreements on the issue.

In July 2017, when meeting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the two countries to carry out the Northern Sea Route cooperation to realize an Ice Silk Road and implement various connectivity projects.

Rob Huebert, an associate professor of politics at the University of Calgary in Canada, said that the melting of ice caps in the Northwest Passage of the Arctic will attract more international routes.

China is planning to encourage shipping in the Arctic, and obviously, the Western shipping community can hardly come up with such a plan, Huebert said.

Chinese authorities have shown an intense interest in Arctic shipping. On June 20, 2017, the National Development and Research Commission and State Oceanic Administration issued a document titled “The Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative,” saying that China  will actively participate in Arctic affairs.

“China is willing to work with all parties in conducting scientific surveys of navigational routes, setting up land-based monitoring stations, carrying out research on climatic and environmental changes in the Arctic, as well as providing navigational forecasting services,” according to the document.

The document also says that China supports efforts by countries bordering the Arctic to improve marine transportation conditions, and encourages Chinese enterprises to take part in the commercial use of the Arctic route.

China is willing to carry out surveys on potential Arctic resources in collaboration with other countries and to strengthen international cooperation in clean energy, according to the document. Chinese enterprises are encouraged to join in responsible, sustainable exploration of Arctic resources.

China will actively participate in events organized by international organizations focusing on the Arctic, according to the document.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that China is Russia’s preferred partner in the development of the Arctic. And Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the country will strive to overcome all difficulties to accelerate the economic development of the Arctic and the utilization of the sea routes, expressing willingness to enhance cooperation with China in this regard.

Ongoing cooperation between China and Russia in developing Arctic shipping infrastructure is vital to the construction of the Ice Silk Road. Vladimir Remyga, chairman of the Coordination Council for Cooperation with Business Associations of Asia under the International Congress of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, noted that the Ice Silk Road will facilitate the alignment of the Eurasian Economic Union and the “Belt and Road” initiative.

Noting that Russia values the integration of the two countries’ strategic initiatives, Remyga said that Russia’s latest Arctic development plan has made the Ice Silk Road a priority.

Remyga pointed out that one of the problems in using the North Sea Route is a shortage of ice-class cargo ships. “Construction of new powerful nuclear icebreakers has begun in Russia,” he said.



YAN YONG is a correspondent with Chinese Social Sciences Today.