China plans to start using the Arctic sea, a route opened up by global warming, for its shipping to decrease travel time from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
Ships taking the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean would shorten the distance by 30% compared to the ocean passages traditionally used to connect the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans through Panama Canal.
For example, the journey from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Arctic route is 2,800 nautical miles shorter than going by the Suez Canal.
Chinese state media has called the proposed shipping route a “golden waterway” for future trade.
“Once this route is commonly used, it will directly change global maritime transportation and have a profound influence on international trade, the world economy, capital flow and resource exploitation,” said Liu Pengfei, the ministry’s spokesman, at a news briefing.
Guidelines from China’s Maritime Safety Administration released on April 5, offer elaborate information on the route which follows the northern coast of North America via waterways through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Wu Yuxiao, senior official at the maritime administration who helped write the guide, said the route will lower transportation costs and be strategically important to China.
Most of the Northwest Passage lies in waters that Canada claims as its own.
Asked if China considered the passage an international waterway or Canadian waters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China noted Canada considered that the route crosses its waters, although some countries believed it was open to international navigation.
The move could pose “the biggest direct challenge to Canadian sovereignty in the Northwest Passage,” University of Calgary professor Rob Huebert has said.
When asked about Chinese ships passing by Canadian waters, an Ottawa spokesperson named Joseph Pickerill says there is no instant right of transit passage in waters of Northern Passage.
“We welcome navigation that complies with our rules and regulations. Canada has an unfettered right to regulate internal waters,” Mr. Pickerill said.
Chinese ships using the Northwest Passage could also worry Washington.
In September, five Chinese Navy ships sailed in international waters in the Bering Sea off Alaska, in an apparent first for China’s military.