China pledges to build ‘Polar Silk Road’ by developing Arctic shipping routes
Beijing has announced this week its intention to construct a “Polar Silk Road”. It will actively participate in the development of Arctic and Antarctic regions as part of its new 2021-2025 “five-year plan.”
According to the plan published on Friday, China would “participate in pragmatic cooperation in the North Pole”. And “raise its ability to participate in the protection and utilization of the South Pole.”
The plans to extend the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping routes were announced back in 2018. China said at the time that it wanted to create new freight routes linking Asia and Europe. It raised concerns about the fragile environment of the region. It also said it would encourage enterprises to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages. That will be paving the way for Arctic shipping routes that would form a “Polar Silk Road.”
Land territories in the Arctic cover an area of around 8 million square km. Sovereignty belonging to Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the United States. The Arctic Ocean is more than 12 million square km. The countries that border it, along with other nations, share maritime rights and interests according to international law.
A major stake in the Russian Yamal LNG project
Despite being a non-Arctic state, China is increasingly active in the polar region. It became an observer member of the Arctic Council in 2013. The country has a major stake in the Russian Yamal liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. It is expected to supply China with four million tons of LNG per year.
China also announced plans to launch a new satellite to track shipping routes and monitor changes in sea ice in the Arctic. It plans to launch the satellite in 2022.
Focused on trade-boosting infrastructure projects along the path of the ancient Silk Road, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to connect China to Europe, the Middle East and beyond.
China building digital Silk Road stretching from Asia through Africa to Europe
The final stretch of a cross-border fiber optic cable is set to be laid by China in Pakistan to create the Digital Silk Road (DSR), Nikkei Asia reports. The DSR is part of the broader Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The fiber cable will link to the Pakistan East Africa Connecting Europe (PEACE) submarine cable in the Arabian Sea, to service countries participating in BRI, and Europe. It is currently being laid between Pakistan’s Rawalpindi city and the port cities of Karachi and Gwadar. The $240-million project, which is in partnership with China’s Huawei Technologies, was approved by the government last week.
The laying of sea cable in Pakistan’s territorial waters will begin in March, following government approval this month for Cybernet, a local internet service provider, to construct an Arabian Sea landing station in Karachi.
The Mediterranean section of the cable is already being laid, and runs from Egypt to France. The 15,000 kilometer-long cable is expected to go into service later this year.
The PEACE cable will provide the shortest direct internet route between participating countries, and will drastically reduce internet data transfer speeds. It is expected to help reduce Pakistan’s exposure to internet outages from damaged submarine cables by providing an additional route for internet connectivity.
According to Eyck Freymann, author of ‘One Belt One Road: Chinese Power Meets the World,’ the BRI is evolving to place less emphasis on traditional heavy infrastructure, and more on high-tech cooperation and digital services.
He told Nikkei Asia that “Beijing wants to dominate the physical infrastructure underlying global communications, particularly the internet,” adding: “This will give it an advantage in internationalizing its tech sector and pursuing future tech-related deals with partner countries.”
The ambitious multi-trillion-dollar BRI initiative (or the new Silk Road), announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to boost connectivity and cooperation between East Asia, Europe, and East Africa. It is expected to significantly boost global trade, cutting trading costs in half for the countries involved, according to expert estimates.