By Paul Goble
The Chinese transportation ministry has issued a policy paper that calls for the construction of both a third heavy icebreaker and a 100,000-ton heavy lift vehicle like the Russian one currently handling prefabricated modules to Russian LNG plans along the Northern Sea Route.
The third icebreaker, to be delivered in a year or two, and the heavy-lift vehicle will make China almost an equal partner with Russia at least on the eastern half of the Northern Sea Route and put new pressure on the Arctic Council to admit Beijing as a member (thebarentsobserver.com/ru/arktika/2021/12/kitay-postroit-tretiy-ledokol).
And the policy paper calls for standardizing Chinese icebreakers, an indication that it plans to build far more of them in the coming years even though China has no icy territorial waters of its own.
While China’s third icebreaker like its first two will be oil-powered, the policy paper clearly implies that Beijing would like to develop a nuclear-powered icebreaker like the ones Moscow already has. If that comes to pass, then China would almost certainly demand equal partner status with Moscow in the handling of the Northern Sea Route.
Marc Lanteigne, a specialist on Arctic politics at the University of Tromso, says that these plans “show that China still sees the Arctic as a priority and wants to continue to develop the Polar Silk Road despite the many setbacks in the North [and] despite uncertainties about the post-pandemic economy” (highnorthnews.com/en/china-build-new-heavy-icebreaker-and-lift-vessel-arctic).