Gao Tianming & Vasilii Erokhin
Currently, about 80% of globally traded cargo is carried by maritime transport, including increasingly along the routes in the North, which have not been secured previously due to heavy ice conditions and extreme temperatures. In recent decades, however,climate change has been affecting the reduction of ice coverage in the Arctic Ocean and thus providing opportunities for the development of commercial navigation. Many countries are becoming increasingly interested in the exploration of opening maritime routes. With the incorporation of the Polar Silk Road into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) network, China has rapidly emerged as the major non-Arctic actor in the region. Contributing to the development of commercial shipping in the North, China aims at the diversification of its trade routes and linking itself with Arctic countries by a network of maritime corridors. Implementation of the Polar Silk Road initiative requires first and foremost improvement of navigation safety and passability of northern routes, primarily through the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The existing network of operable routes along the Russian coastline of the Arctic Ocean allows commercial shipping during summer and autumn only. Due to the prevailing shallow depths, the operation of icebreakers is limited. Extension of the secured navigation window is hindered by the lack of icebreaking and supporting fleet and under developed navigational infrastructure in Russia. In this paper, the authors discuss how China may collaborate with Russia to ensure the development of secure navigable routes by determining the are assuitable for the development of deep-water shipping and allowing the operation of large-tonnage tankers and icebreakers. The paper presents an analysis of water areas in the NSR suitable for the development of deep-water routes and operation of large tonnage vessels with high categories of ice reinforcements. The authors provide an overview of the current condition of the shipbuilding industry in Russia in relation to the construction of vessels and marine equipment for the Arctic in such segments as icebreaking, transport, port, and dredging fleet. In the conclusion, the existing obstacles and opportunities for China and Russia are summarized in light of the establishment of more secure and stable navigation along the NSR.