China prepares for an ice-free Arctic, says SIPRI

17:02, March 03, 2010      

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China is preparing for the Arctic being navigable during summer months. An ice-free Arctic would provide China shorter shipping routes, possible access to natural resources and the incentive for closer cooperation with Arctic nations, especially the Nordic countries. But it also raises the possibility of new international tensions, said Linda Jakobson in her new SIPRI study which was issued in Oslo recently.

The report, entitled 'China prepares for an ice-free Arctic', is based on groundbreaking findings by a Western researcher on China's evolving approach to the Arctic, said a press release from SIPRI.

The author, SIPRI's Beijing-based Linda Jakobson, has assessed China's Arctic interests in shortened trade routes to European and North American markets, and possible access to untapped natural resources to fuel China's economy.

“China is slowly but steadily recognizing the commercial and strategic opportunities that will arise from an ice-free Arctic”, explained Jakobson in her article.

“A few Chinese researchers already question China's natural sciences-approach to Arctic research and encourage the Chinese Government to make comprehensive plans. These researchers are critical of China's neutral position toward Arctic politics. But the government does not want to alarm the Arctic states and therefore is cautious in its Arctic policies,” analyzed Jakobson.

Jakobson said in China's eyes, the Northern Sea Route raises the value of Nordic countries.

“As China's economy relies on foreign trade--with nearly half of its GDP dependent on shipping--there could be much to gain if the shipping route from Shanghai to Hamburg is shortened by 6400 km during the summer each year,” Jakobson explained.

With insurance costs on the traditional route via the Suez Canal having risen more than tenfold due to piracy, the Nordic countries could become China's new gateway to Europe, Jakobson said.

China seeks a more active role in the Arctic Council

The Chinese Government 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, according to Jakobson’s study.

“China emphasizes that it would like to see any disputes over sovereignty of continental shelves resolved peacefully and through dialogue. At the same time Beijing encourages Arctic states to consider the common interests of mankind in the Arctic. Beijing can be expected to stress this position in the future.”

Jakobson recommends that Arctic Council nations actively engage Chinese officials and academics on all aspects of the Arctic, from climate change and maritime rescue operations to commercial shipping routes and resource exploration.

Linda Jakobson is the Acting Programme Director and Beijing-based Senior Researcher of the China and Global Security Programme of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Jakobson has lived and worked in China for over 15 years and has published six books on Chinese politics, foreign policy, and East Asian society.

Established in 1966,SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. It provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.

By Xuefei Chen, People’s Daily Online reporter in Stockholm ([email protected]).
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