China unveils ‘Polar Silk Road’ ambitions in white paper

China wants to extend its Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic region, according to the country’s first white paper on its Arctic policy unveiled on Friday, January 25.

 Even though China isn’t an Arctic country it believes it is an important player in the region.

 The country wants to seize the opportunity to join the development of the Arctic especially in the wake of increased Arctic shipping traffic. The region is gaining on popularity among shipping companies as the melting of ice opens the region to shipping allowing for shorter transit routes.

 However, the region is yet to be fully-developed taking into account the sensitivity of its marine environment and harsh weather conditions.

China would like to “jointly understand, protect, develop and participate in the governance of the Arctic, and advance Arctic-related cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative,” the white paper issued by the State Council Information Office (SCIO) reads.

 As informed, China would encourage its enterprises to build infrastructure in the region so as to facilitate the development of Arctic shipping routes. In addition, exploitation of natural resources in the region has also been identified as one of the objectives of the country’s Arctic policy including the development of oil and gas resources.

Specifically, the region is home to Russia’s Yamal LNG project, in which China has a major stake.

 The country stressed that it would not interfere in the exclusive affairs between Arctic countries within the region, but would like to cooperate with the Arctic countries in developing the region.

China has already partnered up with Russia on building “Ice Silk Road” along the Northern Sea Route.

 China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev agreed to work on the matter during a meeting in Moscow, Russia on July 4, 2017 as the two countries aim to expand cooperation.

Noting that Russia is an important partner in the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi expressed his hope that the two countries would carry out the Northern Sea Route cooperation so as to realize the Ice Silk Road and implement various connectivity projects.

Launched in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Belt and Road Initiative comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes.

 Trade volume among China and countries along the Belt and Road amounted to 7.4 trillion yuan (USD 1.2 trillion) in 2017, surging 17.8 percent year on year, Gao Feng, spokesperson of the Ministry of Commerce, said at a press conference.

The growth outpaced the 14.2-percent increase in China’s foreign trade last year.

Of the total, China’s exports to Belt and Road countries climbed 12.1 percent from one year earlier, while imports from the countries grew 26.8 percent, Gao said.

—-World Maritime