China Proposes “Polar Silk Road”
Last Friday, China outlined its ambitions to extend the Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing a shipping route opened up by global warming. Termed the “Polar Silk Road,” this signature project aims for regional integration under Xi Jinping’s leadership.
In its first official Arctic policy white paper, China said it would encourage enterprises to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages in accordance with the law to pave the way for their commercial and regularized operation. To do so, it would further cooperate with other stakeholders.
"China hopes to work with all parties to build a 'Polar Silk Road' through developing the Arctic shipping routes," says the white paper. China claims that every country's "rights to use the Arctic shipping routes should be ensured".
According to BBC, the new shipping lane proposed by China offers the country a faster sea route to many ports than the current routes in use, such as the Suez or Panama canal.
China, despite being a non-Arctic state, is increasingly active in the polar region and has become an observer member of the Arctic Council in 2013, a role that implies China’s longstanding interest in the region.
The white paper released acknowledges China's interests in oil, gas, minerals, fishing, and other resources in the Arctic. But on the other hand, it takes efforts to emphasize the cooperative nature of its new initiative.
According to Reuters, concerns that China will plunder Arctic resources or damage the environment by building the “Polar Silk Road” were “absolutely necessary”, said Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou.