Belt and Road InitiativeChina’s Belt and Road Initiative is expanding with a “Polar silk road”

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is expanding with a “Polar silk road”

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is expanding with a “Polar silk road”

China emphasis its “shared interest” with Arctic nations and the plans to include the polar region in future Belt and Road projects

In January 2018, the Chinese government released a white paper, titled “China’s Arctic Policy”, pledging to participate actively in Arctic affairs. The document outlined a blueprint for China’s Arctic strategy and its aspiration to build a Polar Silk Road under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The white paper’s ambitions were to outline China’s interest in the future development of the Arctic.

According to the paper, China will encourage infrastructure construction along Arctic routes and as shipping routes expand in number China will facilitate economic and social progress. Through BRI projects China hopes to boost tourism, which will help local economies and encourage the preservation of traditional cultures.

For years, China has recognized the importance of the Arctic, with groundwork beginning as far as 1999 when China led its first research expedition in the Arctic, which then followed the construction of its first scientific research station in Norway in 2004. China then obtained permanent observer status at the Arctic Council in 2011 and then created the Russia-China Polar Engineering and Research Centre in 2016 to improve the practices to access Arctic resources.

In April 2019 China participated in the International Arctic Forum in Russia where Moscow and Beijing signed their first treaty on scientific cooperation in the Arctic. Through other agreements built around Chinese-Russian infrastructure development a new policy that has become known as the “Polar Silk Road” also took shape. The press release indicated that “joint efforts will be made in Arctic marine science research, which will promote the construction of ‘Silk Road on Ice.’”

During the Second Belt and Road Forum of April 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally announced the plan to connect Arctic shipping through the Northern Sea Route to China’s Maritime Silk Road. The Polar Silk Road extends the limits of the BRI even further and beyond its “east-west framework”. “We give major attention to the development of the Northern Sea Route [and] consider the possibility to connect it to the Chinese Maritime Silk Road,” Said Putin.

China’s interest rests mainly on the fact that the Polar Silk Road will not only will shave off 10 days (5,000 nautical miles) to conduct shipping from China to Europe, but it will also enhance cooperation between China and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.

Already, since May 2015 the EEU has worked with China to finalizing its economic integration with the BRI, which will create a new economic bloc founded on the long-term development of infrastructure. At the Belt and Road Forum, Putin confirmed that the BRI “perfectly fits into their plan” and that the members of the EEU “unanimously supported the idea of linking the construction of the Eurasian Economic Community”.

As for Canada has its involvement and interest in the Arctic are important, this could mean that the dialogue on all Arctic matters between China and Canada could be well framed in the upcoming decades.

In the meantime, both countries are already considering a formal free-trade agreement. On May 10, 2019, Liberal MP Andrew Leslie attended a forum, which is believed to be the largest pan-Arctic gathering ever organized in China. Leslie came bearing the message that Canada “welcomes” the idea to work alongside China in the Arctic. And that “Canada welcomes the opportunity for further productive cooperation with China,” he said before pointing different areas in which the two countries collaborate such as science, shipping and marine policy.


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