The Arctic Council, which is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation in the Arctic, has expressed concern over China’s intentions of exploring the region, media reports say.
Climate change has offered access to immense mineral resources and new transport routes that reduce sea travel routes to Europe considerably after the frozen parts of the Arctic have opened up.
At present, eight countries including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Russia, and the United States, exercise sovereignty over the lands within the Arctic Circle, and these constitute the member states of the council. China is not an Arctic state but has made the region a strategic priority by declaring itself a ‘near-Arctic State’.
Hong Kong Free Press writes that an expert on the Arctic and China at Norwegian consultancy Akvaplan Nive, Rune Rautio said that China is very interested in the Arctic. “It is about securing the future trade routes to their markets, and resources. They are thinking in a much longer perspective than we are.”
Establishing strong navigation routes through the Arctic can reduce the distance between Shanghai and Western Europe by two weeks and will save nearly 30 percent of travel time if the conventional routes through Malacca Strait and Suez Canal are used.
China has plans to build the Polar Silk Road which is an extension of the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) that can ensure fast transport of raw materials to China as well as export of manufactured goods.
But China’s attempt to play a bigger role in the region is a cause for concern for some member states. North America and Arctic Defense and Security Network said in a report, “China’s growing power and resource needs are drawing its attention farther from home. Through initially centered Eurasia, the BRI has expanded to include Africa, Latin America, and the Arctic.”