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As in the times of Marco Polo, but now towards the Arctic.
The Chinese government announced on Friday its plan to create a “Polar Silk Road”, an ambitious plan that seeks to establish a maritime trade route through the seas around the North Pole.
The project, part of the Silk Road and Belt Initiative strategy, presented by President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to establish a corridor that crosses the Polar Circle and connects the Asian country with three major economic poles: North America , East Asia and Western Europe.
And all this “thanks” to climate change: Beijing’s intention is to use maritime routes opened by global warming, which will allow to shorten the time and cost of trade with some of its main partners, according to the Chinese authorities.
The document published this Friday, called ” China’s Policy for the Arctic “, is the first official statement from the Asian country in which it expresses its intentions to navigate an inhospitable ocean, but rich in natural resources.
But what does this new trade route for China consist of and what benefits can it have?
The northern route
According to the text, the Chinese government will encourage companies to build infrastructures and carry out trial commercial trips, laying the roads for a future shipping route through the North Pole.
The new step, according to official forecasts, would offer Beijing a faster sea route to many ports, since currently, Chinese merchant ships must use other much more distant routes, such as the Suez or Panama channels.
According to estimates, the new route could reduce to 20 the 48 days it currently takes to get to Rotterdam from China through the Suez Canal.
“China hopes to work with all parties to build a ‘Silk Pole Route’ through the creation of sea lanes in that area,” says the text, published by the Office of the State Information Council.
The document adds that “all countries” will have the right to use this route, which will seek to establish strategies to protect the environment and will seek cooperation given the “shared interests” of Beijing with the “Arctic nations”.
And it is that China, in fact, does not have coasts in this ocean, the smallest in the world, that bathes Russia, the United States, Canada, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, nations that dispute the exploration and exploitation that They hide under those waters.
However, since 2013, he became an observer member of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum that analyzes problems of the countries and indigenous peoples that live in territories near the northernmost part of the planet.
Since then, environmental groups and international analysts have warned of a supposed interest of Beijing in joining the race for the control of an area rich in oil and natural gas, equivalent to between 16 and 26% of undiscovered land reserves , something that the Chinese government denies.
However, the “China Policy for the Arctic” does recognize China’s interests in oil, gas, minerals, fisheries and other resources of the region, but says it will seek to “develop them cooperatively with other Arctic nations and states.”
And is that the Chinese government is not the first to announce new intentions about the Arctic in recent dates.
For the control of the Arctic
President Vladimir Putin inaugurated in December the Arctic a plant that plans to export gas to countries as far away as Spain.
The Russian government also announced at the end of last year the launch of the Iceberg Project , a plan that seeks “the development of hydrocarbon fields with total autonomy under water and ice, in the Arctic seas with severe winter conditions”, as explained the Foundation for Advanced Studies of Russia.
In fact, according to Chinese media and the Russian pro-government digital newspaper Sputnik, the Chinese idea of the Polar Silk Road is an original initiative of Moscow and both countries have been working on its design for months.
Last May, after a visit to the Russian capital, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that his government supported “the Russian Silk Road Initiative”.
The Silk Road Belt and Route Initiative, which is part of the Polar Route, is inspired by the old goods caravans between Europe and Asia that used the original Silk Road and seeks to promote, according to the Chinese government, the construction of infrastructures and connectivity between some 70 countries through land and sea routes.
Another phase of the project is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor , which aims to unite the western region of China with the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, which would allow Beijing to consolidate its influence in the Middle East and Africa.
But it does not stay there.
Currently China already operates about 20 freight train lines that directly connect the country with European cities such as London, Madrid, Rotterdam or Warsaw.
It also plans to connect the city of Kunming, in the south of the country, with Vientiane, the capital of neighboring Laos, and the railway network of Burma.
If he manages to execute this work and starts other projects planned in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, it could become a pan-Asian network that will link the country with the rest of Southeast Asia.
China is also building the railway that will link the two main cities of Kenya: the capital, Nairobi, and Mombasa, on the coast of the country.
This project is part of the future transport network of East Africa , which will connect the cities of Kenya with the capitals of Uganda (Kampala), South Sudan (Juba), Rwanda (Kigali) and Burundi (Bujumbura).