China to build ‘Polar Silk Road’ in Arctic

Beijing: China on Friday published a white paper on its Arctic policy, pledging cooperative governance and elaborating its vision for a “Polar Silk Road” extending President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative that India opposes.

The document, titled China’s Arctic Policy by the State Council Information Office, said Beijing would encourage enterprises to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages, paving the way for Arctic shipping routes that would form the “Polar Silk Road”.

“China hopes to work with all parties to build a ‘Polar Silk Road’ through developing the Arctic shipping routes,” Xinhua news agency reported, citing the document.

The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative) will facilitate connectivity, sustainable economic and social development of the Arctic.

It said “great importance will be placed on navigation security”.

“The country has actively conducted studies on these routes and continuously strengthened hydrographic surveys to improve navigation, security and logistics in the Arctic”.

The paper stressed that China has “shared interests” with Arctic nations. “While pursuing its own interests, China will pay due regard to the interests of other countries and the broader international community.”

It said that China will also regulate and manage Arctic-related affairs and activities within its jurisdiction in accordance with the law.

The document said that Beijing will “enhance its ability to understand, protect and develop the Arctic, and participate in international cooperation in Arctic affairs.

It said China also eyes development of oil, gas, mineral resources and other non-fossil energies, fishing and tourism in the region, jointly with Arctic states, while “respecting the tradition and culture of Arctic residents”, including indigenous peoples, and conserving the natural environment.

The white paper promised more on scientific research and environmental protection in the Arctic.

Kong Xuanyou, Vice Foreign Minister, said that China’s participation in the development of the Arctic was a “contribution that would bring about development opportunities and social benefits”.

“It is completely unnecessary to doubt our intentions about plundering of resources or destruction of the environment,” Kong said.

The land territories in the Arctic cover an area of about 8 million square kilometres, whose sovereignty belongs to Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US.

The Arctic Ocean has an area of over 12 million square kilometres, in which coastal and other countries share maritime rights and interests according to international law.

China’s Belt and Road initiative, proposed in 2013, aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes. The plan reflects Xi’s desire for China to take on a more prominent global leadership role.