Research and development: China and Russia on the Arctic Silk Road

As Arctic ice caps retreat, the Northern Sea Route becomes a major issue for Beijing. Before the second BRI summit, Russia announced a bold plan for the Arctic. China's interest in the Arctic is only now becoming manifest, but its Arctic strategy began several years ago.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Cooperation, research and development will be the bases for a strategic partnership between China and Russia in the Arctic, said Russian President Vladimir Putin at China’s second Belt and Road (BRI) conference in Beijing in April.

Putin spoke almost four years after the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and BRI announced their alliance.

Weeks before Putin’s latest speech in Beijing, Russia unveiled a bold plan for Arctic development at the Arctic: Territory of Dialogue conference on 9-10 April.

This ties into the “Great Eurasian Partnership”, not only in extending roads, rail and new cities into the Far East, but also in extending science and civilisation into a terrain long thought totally inhospitable.

At the conference, China and Russia signed the first scientific cooperation agreement, setting up a China-Russia Arctic Research Centre as a part of the Polar Silk Road.

Whilst China's interest in the Arctic is only now becoming manifest, its Arctic strategy began several years ago.

In fact, Beijing launched its first Arctic research expedition in 1999, followed by the establishment of its first Arctic research station in Svalbard, Norway in 2004.

After years of effort, China achieved a permanent observer seat at the Arctic Council in 2011, and began building icebreakers soon thereafter surpassing Canada and nearly surpassing the United States whose two out-dated ice breakers have passed their shelf life by many years.

As the Arctic ice caps continue to recede, the Northern Sea Route has become a major issue for China. in fact, shipping time from China’s port of Dalian to Rotterdam would be cut by ten days, making this alternative route very attractive.

Ships sailing from China to Europe must currently transit through the congested Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal which is 5,000 nautical miles longer than the northern route.

The opening up of Arctic resources vital for China’s long-term outlook is also a major driver in this initiative.