China urges ships to use Arctic route

BEIJING • China will encourage ships flying its flag to take the North-west Passage via the Arctic Ocean, a route opened up by global warming, to cut travel times between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a state-run newspaper said yesterday.

Shorter shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean would save Chinese companies time and money. For example, the journey from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Arctic route is 2,800 nautical miles shorter than going by the Suez Canal.

China's Maritime Safety Administration this month released a 356-page guide in Chinese offering detailed route guidance from the northern coast of North America to the northern Pacific, the China Daily said.

"Once this route is commonly used, it will directly change global maritime transport and have a profound influence on international trade, the world economy, capital flow and resource exploitation," ministry spokesman Liu Pengfei was quoted as saying.

The route would also be strategically important to China, another ministry official, Mr Wu Yuxiao, told the paper. "Many countries have noticed the financial and strategic value of Arctic Ocean passages. China has also paid much attention," he said.

Mr Wu pointed to risks, such as lack of infrastructure and possible damage by ice and unpredictable weather. "As sea ice has declined due to global warming, Arctic navigation has increasing possibilities. That's why we need guidance for ships with the Chinese flag."

Melting sea ice has spurred more commercial traffic and China has sought to become more active in the Arctic, where it has said it has important interests.

Chinese ships, even merchant vessels, using the North-west Passage could raise eyebrows in Washington.

Last September, five Chinese navy ships sailed in international waters in the Bering Sea off Alaska, in an apparent first for China's military at a time when US President Barack Obama toured the American state.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline 'China urges ships to use Arctic route'. Subscribe