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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Humpert and Raspotnik
The development of Arctic shipping routes as a routine intercontinental transit route is currently
considered a possibility in China (Blunden, 2012) and access to Arctic shipping routes could have
profound impacts on China’s trade and shipping patterns in the future (Campbell, 2012). The
prospect of a navigable Arctic Ocean appeals to China as it offers not only substantial commercial
opportunities in terms of distance savings, but more importantly allows it to diversify its supply and
trade routes and addresses the “Malacca Strait Dilemma.” President Hu described the dilemma as
strategic vulnerability, which arises out of the lack of Chinese control over its key waterways and
called for the adoption of new strategies to overcome the perceived vulnerability (as cited in Chen,
China’s geopolitical security is highly dependent on the Strait of Malacca and the country’s economic
development relies on secure access to its sea-lane of communications (SLOC). Roughly 60% of
transit shipping through the Strait of Malacca is bound for China (Chen, 2010) and 78% of its energy
imports pass through the 1.5-mile wide channel at the southern tip of Singapore (Blunden, 2012). As
a result of increasing piracy activities off the coast of East Africa, insurance premiums for ships
traveling through the Suez Canal via the Gulf of Aden rose tenfold between September 2008 and
March 2009 (Campbell, 2012).
A number of Chinese experts and academics support the idea of increased shipping traffic through
the Arctic and see Arctic maritime traffic as geopolitical necessity for the Asian country. According
to Guo Peiqing, Associate Professor at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao, Arctic shipping
“will change the structure of global trade” and may result in “the emergence of a new, circumpolar
super-economic belt made up of Asia, North America and Northern Europe” (as cited in Campbell,
2012: 6). Li Zhenfu of Dalian Maritime University explains, “whoever has control over the Arctic
route will control the new passage of world economics and international strategies” (as cited in
Jakobson, 2010: 6). In November 2010 Sovcomflot Group and China National Petroleum
Corporation signed a strategic long-term cooperation agreement which sets the framework for
utilizing the Northern Sea Route for transit shipments of hydrocarbons as well as delivery of oil and
gas from Russia’s Arctic offshore fields (Sovcomflot, 2010). China also recently announced plans for
a second icebreaker to join the MV Xu
Lóng, the country’s Ukrainian-built icebreaker, by 2014
(China Daily, 2012).
While China has yet to define an official Arctic policy and on the surface continues to follow a wait-
and-see approach, it has begun to actively prepare for the commercial and strategic opportunities