The Chinese will “participate in pragmatic cooperation in the North Pole,” the draft of the plan said, and improve the nation’s “ability to participate in the protection and utilization of the South Pole.”
The plan includes the development of what China calls the “Transpolar Sea Route”, which would pass through the center of the “Arctic Ocean” and stretch only a few miles south of the North Pole itself.
“China’s latest five-year plan includes a massive new project known as the Polar Silk Road. It could change Geo-economics forever.” https://t.co/C1Y0xh0VsH pic.twitter.com/hiIv4C9eXP — NAPC PRO (@napcpro) March 8, 2021
Historically, the frigid Arctic was relatively free of the geopolitical struggles among world powers that have beset most other regions. But in recent decades, due to thawing ice and improving technology, this has begun to change.
China’s borders do not extend into the Arctic, but it obtained “observer status” in the Arctic Council in 2013 and has become increasingly focused on the region in recent years.
In 2018, the Chinese Communist Party published a white paper outlining the nation’s Arctic policy for the first time. The document mentioned the desire to tap into “lucrative” resources and develop faster new “shipping” routes through the region.
At the time, a “Polar Silk Road” was viewed as a tangential add-on to the “Belt and Road Initiative”, whose aim is to link Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa on a network of road, rail and shipping passages.
But now that the idea is enshrined into the 2021–2025 five-year plan, its status is considerably elevated. The plan now has a place among the major aims and aspirations in China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its general national strategy.
If the goals are realized, China will not only enrich itself by tapping into immense resource wealth at both poles, but also better connect itself to Russia and other nations.