As polar ice caps melt, China is preparing to take advantage of potential opportunities that have broad national security implications, including new shipping routes along the Arctic rim and massive hydrocarbon reserves of oil and gas under the Arctic. Though most international environmental groups see the melting of the polar ice caps as a disaster, China is seeing an opportunity, said Wang Kuan-Hsiung, a researcher at National Taiwan Normal University.
The Arctic will be largely ice-free in the summers within a decade, he said, and China views potential new shipping routes along the Arctic rim as a way of avoiding maritime piracy and cutting costs with shorter routes to Europe. Beijing has had security concerns over the sea-lanes of communication. China is dependent on oil and gas shipments from the Middle East. Potential choke points in the Malacca Strait and territorial disputes in the South China Sea have added to the concern.
For the first time in China’s modern naval history, it has taken up anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden to ward off Somali pirates. Though an Arctic passage would do little to solve security concerns over oil and gas shipments from the Middle East; it would provide a shorter route for China’s exports to Europe. It is estimated that the maritime route between Asia and Europe could be reduced from 15,000 miles to less than 8,000 miles, Wang said.
May 16 2011