China seeking to bypass Russia in Arctic Ocean

China is exploring the Arctic central waterway near the North Pole, away from Russia’s northern coast. Beijing’s Snow Dragon icebreaker examined a possible route in northern Canada. Russia’s northern sea route is inadequate for China’s needs.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Jamestown Foundation) – Beijing plans to bypass the Northern Sea Route, a passage along  Russia’s northern coast, bypassing the latter in the race to rule Arctic sea trade, this according to the Jamestown Foundation, citing an analysis by Moscow’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper.

China has been among the biggest users of the Northern Sea Route in recent years because it allows Chinese companies to cut 15 days off the shipping time between Europe and Chinese ports.

Over the last 12 months, six Chinese ships, taking advantage of reductions in the icepack, have made roundtrips along this route.

But Beijing has concluded that the Russian route will never be large enough to meet its needs—there simply is not enough space for all the ships China hopes to have coursing between Chinese and European ports a decade from now.  As a result, China has been looking at alternatives.

Earlier this summer, it dispatched its Snow Dragon icebreaker on an expedition to see if it could develop a route to the north of Canada, the so-called “Northwest Passage”. However, Canadian authorities are opposed to an expanded Chinese presence, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, and have agreed only to scientific research visits, not trade.

In any event, China’s goal may not have been limited to an exploration of the Northwest Passage. On 24 August, the Russian edition of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote that the Snow Dragon’s trip represented something of a turning point in the development of the Arctic as a trade route.

The voyage was “the first successful transit of the central waterway of the Arctic Ocean” and thus demonstrated that a route from China to Europe far north of Russia (and possibly Canada as well) could become viable in the near future.