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(Blog) The Arctic: China’s Third Silk Road

2015-03-14 10:45:18       source:University of Nottingham

By Stephen Blank

March 11, 2015

"As with so many other issues, China's Arctic policy combines commercial opportunity, a desire for energy security and geostrategic considerations. The commercial motive is obvious. To the extent that the Arctic becomes available for commercial navigation so it becomes an attractive thoroughfare for China and for those exporting to China, because Arctic shipping routes would be much shorter than the trip through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. For China and Russia the Arctic becomes the long sought-after alternative to the Suez Canal, which, when opened, was a major foundation of British global power. Consequently, China has assiduously pursued investment opportunities, particularly in extractive industries, in Iceland and throughout Scandinavia.

The Arctic, widely heralded as a potential energy bonanza, possesses the possibility in the future, when prices rise and exploration resumes, of becoming another major alternative to China's Malacca Straits dilemma which, if anything, is apparently intensifying. This dilemma relates to the fact that while China now depends on energy shipments from the Gulf and Africa that must traverse the Indian ocean and the Straits of Malacca, it is extremely concerned that either the Indian Navy, which is growing in strategic importance and anti-Chinese in orientation, or the U.S. Navy, its presumptive main enemy, will interdict those energy shipments and even potentially blockade China. The geostrategic motive behind China's Silk Roads, one through Central Asia to Europe, and another through Myanmar and India to South Asia, is that each have an additional rationale of providing alternatives to the Malacca problem.  Similarly China's energy deals with Russia, that now include equity shares in Rosneft's Arctic fields and Russia's Siberian energy holdings, present a second alternative to the Straits of Malacca and, especially under conditions of today's Western sanctions on Russia, reinforce Russia's growing economic and strategic dependence upon China."

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