Shipping Chinese goods to Europe by sea is lengthy, expensive and fraught with danger, not least from pirates. A northern route through the Arctic would lessen all three costs.
Global warming is making that a more practical possibility, at least in the summer months which offer the promise of an ice-free northwestern passage to Europe. A new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says Beijing is looking seriously at the prospects. It has “allocated extra resources to Arctic research and decided to build a new high-tech polar expedition ice-breaker. It also seeks a more active role in the Arctic Council” (of which, as a country without an Arctic coast, it is not a member).
China already owns the world’s largest non-nuclear icebreaker, the Ukraine-built Xue Long (Snow Dragon) and conducts significant polar scientific research. Its regional push into Africa and the Indian Ocean has met with some resistance, so it is likely to move cautiously in the Arctic. And it has another reason for doing so. Russia, which, with its long Arctic coastline, sees itself as the regional power and energy bridge between Asia and Europe.