China to publish Arctic shipping route guide: State media

BEIJING (AFP) - China will soon publish a guide to navigating the Northeast Passage, a recently opened shortcut to Europe through the Arctic, state media reported on Friday in a further sign of the country's polar ambitions.

The guide covers the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane that Russian legislation defines as running from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean along the Russian Arctic coast, the China Daily newspaper said.

China's guide, to be released in July, is its first to the route and follows one issued by Russia, the report said.

The book will provide "comprehensive, practical and authoritative" information for Chinese cargo ships sailing the route to Europe, Mr Zhai Jiugang, deputy head of the Ministry of Transport's Maritime Safety Administration, told reporters on Thursday, the report said.

The route can cut the voyage from China to Europe - normally via the Straits of Malacca and the Suez Canal - by 5,186 kilometres and nine days, Mr Zhai said.

China has made no secret of its polar enthusiasm at both ends of the globe. Beijing has mounted more than two dozen expeditions in the Antarctic and built research bases, one at more than 4,000 metres altitude on one of the frozen continent's highest ice caps.

Last year, Beijing gained observer status in the Arctic Council, providing it a say in deliberations over the future of the northern polar region.

A Chinese merchant ship made the country's maiden voyage along the Northern Sea Route in August last year, part of a rush of interest by shippers to take advantage of the more economical route as Arctic ice melts and makes the passage available.

The China Daily said that 46 commercial ships took advantage of the route last year. "More than 90 per cent of China's international trade is carried out by sea, so once the route is completely open, it will significantly facilitate the cargo shipping and trade sectors in China," said Mr Wang Hexun, director of the Donghai Navigation Safety Administration, according to the paper.

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