By Oleg Nekhai
China is setting out on its fifth expedition to the Arctic, and speaks of a plan to build a second icebreaker. Wen Lisin, deputy Director of the Chinese State Department’s polar exploration Center says that the new icebreaker will be better than its predecessor.
The new icebreaker will have a deadweight of 8 thousand tons, be able to travel up to 20,000 sea miles and break through one and a half meter thick ice. Recently, China and other Asian countries have been showing a heightened interest in the Arctic, which is quite a natural development, says Sergei Pryamikov, an expert at the Arctic and Antarctic Institute in St. Petersburg.
“Japan has joined China in the club of Arctic explorers and South Korea has constructed an icebreaker which is to operate in the Arctic Ocean. Quite naturally, in order to better predict the conditions for the developement of its economy, China should be interested in the process that is ongoing in the Arctic. It has opened a station in Spiebergen, like other non-Arctic nations”, said Sergei Prymikov.
Experts say that it is understandable why many countries have interest in the Arctic. In the near future, the significance of the Arctic to the global economy will become more pronounced, says Alena Volohova, an Adviser to the Institute of Contemporary World Problems.
“The ice is thawing fast and the Northhern route could be used for a large portion of the year, and in the futre it could be used nonstop throughout the year. China wants to use that route for its global trading”, Alena Volohova said.
Another reason why China is interested in the Arctic is that the region is reportedly rich in natural resources, mainly crude oil and gas. Those natural pies are still to be shared by the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia, the five Arctic nations. Displaying frenzic activity in that direction could yield handsome dividends, says Alena Volohova.
“There is an international committee handling Arctic matters. China is an observer in it, but it is anxious to become a full-fledged member, and it is working to persuade countries which are in the neighborhood of the Arctic to help Beijing to become a member of the committee.
China wants to be in the Arctic and the presence of its icebreaker fleet is evidence of that plan. It has only two icebreakers at the moment but considering the pace of the work in that direction, that number will go up soon.