China in Talks with Russia Over Arctic ‘Ice Silk Road’

China is in talks with Russia to build a ‘Polar Silk Road’ through developing Arctic shipping routes opened up by global warming, a Chinese government white paper published on Friday says.

Despite not being an Arctic country, China is pushing its ambitious global trade infrastructure program to the polar region, by outlining its vision for an “Ice Silk Road” for ships as it seeks greater access to the strategically vital Arctic Circle, AFP reports.

For the first time, China has transparently outlined how it sees its role in the region, the expansion of President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road initiative northward is noted.

The US$1 trillion infrastructure program is billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabrics, spices and a wealth of other goods between Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

China wants to build an “ice silk road as a major strategic cooperative initiative”, Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said at a press conference in Beijing.

China’s increasing prominence in the region has prompted concerns from Arctic states over its long-term strategic objectives, including possible military deployment.

“Some people may have misgivings over our participation in the development of the Arctic, worried we may have other intentions, or that we may plunder resources or damage the environment,” Vice-Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said at a briefing.

“I believe these kinds of concerns are absolutely unnecessary.”

Among China’s increasing interests in the Arctic is its major stake in Russia’s Yamal liquefied natural gas project which is expected to supply China with four million tons of LNG a year, according to the state-run China Daily.

Shipping through the Northern Sea Route would shave almost 20 days off the regular time using the traditional route through the Suez Canal, the newspaper reported last month. COSCO Shipping has also previously sailed vessels through the Arctic’s northeast passage.