China's Cosco plans Arctic Ocean routes

SHANGHAI • China's biggest shipping company Cosco intends to launch regular services across the Arctic Ocean to Europe, as global warming makes the route viable and Beijing steps up its northern ambitions.

The state-owned industry giant has only twice sent a vessel through the North-east Passage, once in 2013 and again in a voyage completed this month, state media reported.

The European Union is China's biggest trading partner and sailing via the Arctic - where melting sea ice has spurred more commercial traffic - rather than the Indian Ocean would cut shipping times by as much as nine days, according to previous reports.

"There is an intention to open a regular line in the future and people are discussing it," a spokesman for group subsidiary Cosco Container Lines said yesterday, without giving a specific timetable.

China does not border the Arctic and has no territorial claim to any of it, but joined the Arctic Council as an observer two years ago.

Companies are already drilling for oil and digging for minerals across the Arctic on an unprecedented scale, and they are expected to spend US$100 billion (S$139 billion) there over the next decade, according to Lloyd's of London, the world's oldest insurance market.

The countries with territory in the region - the United States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia - are developing plans to build infrastructure and bolster their militaries by adding surveillance systems, training troops in cold weather and reinforcing ships to sail through ice.

Russia has been struggling to speed up oil and gas exploration in resource-rich offshore Arctic areas due to Western sanctions restricting foreign companies from helping Russia to tap the deposits.

But this may change with China in the picture. A senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official in July revealed that Beijing and Moscow had discussed the potential participation of Chinese companies in natural resource exploration in Russia's Arctic.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'China's Cosco plans Arctic Ocean routes'. Print Edition | Subscribe