Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Don't Fear China's Arctic Takeover"

No fear.
Via The Drive:
“We need to look differently at what an icebreaker does... We need to reserve space, weight and power if we need to strap a cruise missile package on it... U.S. presence in the Arctic is necessary for more than just power projection; it’s a matter of national security... If they remain unchecked, the Russians will extend their sphere of influence to over five million square miles of Arctic ice and water.”
—Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft
Strap a cruise missile package on icebreakers?

Here's the headline story from Bloomberg View:

It's natural that China wants to stake a claim at the top of the world.
Last week, China said it plans to build a "Polar Silk Road" that will open shipping lanes across the largely pristine region at the top of the world. It's an ambitious idea for a country that lacks an Arctic border, and it has raised concerns around the world about China's ultimate intentions and its capacity for environmental stewardship. Although these are reasonable worries, they're almost certainly overblown.

In theory, melting Arctic ice will create a significant economic opportunity. By one account, the region holds 22 percent of the world's oil and gas reserves. As the ice recedes due to climate change, those reserves will be easier to mine. As new shipping lanes open, they should also be easier to transport. A cargo vessel going from Shanghai to Rotterdam via the Northwest Passage, rather than through the Panama Canal, will shave 2,200 miles off its journey. Already, some 900 Arctic infrastructure projects are at various stages of development.

To be sure, most won't get anywhere. It's hard to predict exactly how and where polar ice will melt. Some hoped-for shipping lanes may not open until the 2070s, and those routes that have already opened are unlikely to support profitable shipping businesses, thanks to their remoteness and the high cost of insurance. In 2016, only 19 vessels traversed the Northern Sea Route between Asia and Europe -- hardly evidence of an Arctic "gold rush" or competition for the Panama Canal.

Yet China is taking the long view. In the past decade, Chinese academics have started publishing papers on the role of the Arctic in China's economic and geopolitical future. Policy makers have begun describing China as a "near-Arctic state" and an Arctic "stakeholder," despite having no coastline or other obvious territorial claims in the region. In 2016, China published a 356-page guidebook on navigating Canada's Northwest Passage -- then made a successful voyage through the fabled sea route just a year later.

All this has led to some understandable concerns. Canada, for one, is worried that China will fail to respect existing sovereignty claims, and recently accused it of obtaining a permit for its Northwest Passage voyage under false premises. As the world's largest consumer of oil, gas, minerals and seafood, China is also sure to have an outsized impact on the region's environment.

But that's all the more reason for it to have a seat at the table in determining the Arctic's future. So far, at least, China has been willing to work within international rules. In 2013, it obtained permanent observer status at the Arctic Council, a group that includes the eight Arctic nations and six indigenous communities....MORE