Arctic: China plans to ‘encircle’ Russia, Europe

After failing to tame India in the Himalayas, China is toying with the revived idea to wrest back the territory it believes it had lost to Russia and Europe since the Mongol era of the 13th century when Changez Khan and his successors created the largest-ever empire on the globe and ran it for a century.

With this objective, Beijing is putting together another Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)-like plan. It is known as the Polar Silk Road (PSR).

In the post-Mongol era, large parts of Central and East Asia became independent and then were made part of Russia and then the Soviet Union. China has tried to reclaim this ‘lost territory’

On the face of it the PSR could potentially reduce distances significantly for global trade. But the Arctic Ocean remains frozen over for most part of the year, making it much harder to traverse than the two Arctic shipping routes currently available, through the Northern Sea and the Northwest Passage, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said.

China argues that the PSR could be developed as a new sea route through the ice-covered parts of the Arctic Ocean, which is now melting (due to climate change).

Beijing now plans to participate in the ‘pragmatic cooperation’ on the Arctic and the building of a PSR, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted recently from the draft outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for national economic and social development and the long-range objectives to the year 2035.

These plans were submitted to China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s Parliament, which began its annual session in Beijing this week, media reported.

Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Transpolar Sea Route (TSR) will cut across the centre of the Arctic Ocean, passing close to the North Pole.

 “To the best of our knowledge, China is the only country to have led official expeditions of all three Arctic shipping passages, including the TSR,” a research team, led by Dr Mia Bennett from the University of Hong Kong, wrote in the paper.

In 2018, China had hinted at the intention to expand influence in the Arctic region, published a white paper calling for its transformation into a PSR and highlighted plans to integrate with its multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

China unveiled the BRI in 2013 with the aim to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a vast network of land and sea routes. The USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is part of the larger BRI.

India has refused to join the BRI, the pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, as the CPEC passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).