Linda Jakobson of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports that potential Arctic sea routes to New York and Europe have attracted the attention of the Chinese: China prepares for an ice-free Arctic:
Because China’s economy is reliant on foreign trade, there are substantial commercial implications if shipping routes are shortened during the summer months each year. Nearly half of China’s gross domestic product (GDP) is thought to be dependent on shipping. The trip from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Northern Sea Route—which runs along the north coast of Russia from the Bering Strait in the east to Novaya Zemlya in the west—is 6400 kilometres shorter than the route via the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal... Moreover, due to piracy, the cost of insurance for ships travelling via the Gulf of Aden towards the Suez Canal increased more than tenfold between September 2008 and March 2009.
The prospect of the Arctic being navigable during summer months as a result of climate change has impelled the Chinese Government to allocate more resources to research in the High North. Several Chinese academics have encouraged their government to be aware of the political, economic and military implications of shorter shipping routes and untapped energy resources. However, Chinese officials advocate cautious Arctic policies for fear of causing alarm and provoking countermeasures among the Arctic states.
China’s insistence on respect for sovereignty as a guiding principle of international relations deters it from questioning the territorial rights of Arctic states. Furthermore, China is aware that its size and rise to major power status evoke jitters, but at the same time it is striving to position itself so that it will not be excluded from access to the Arctic.
There are opportunities for small Arctic states (Norway, Greenland/Denmark, Iceland?):
Smaller Arctic Council members have an opportunity to lay the foundation for a unique relationship with China by engaging Chinese officials and academics on Arctic issues—ranging from climate change and maritime rescue operations to commercial shipping routes and resource exploration.
The Financial Times had a story on the report on March 1: China looks to Arctic shipping route.