The Arctic Silk Road: A Huge Leap Forward For China And Russia

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

The Silk Road, renamed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is developing infrastructure along land and sea trade routes. However, little is known about China’s initiative in the Arctic Circle, which represents a new route that Beijing is now able to develop thanks to technology together with the strategic partnership with Russia.

Involving about 65 countries and affecting 4.4 billion people, constituting thirty percent of the world's GDP, together with a total investment from Beijing that could surpass a trillion dollars, this is an immense project that requires a lot of imagination to grasp the intentions of the Chinese leadership. With a host of projects already in progress, and some almost completed (the Sino-Pakistan Corridor known as CPEC is archetypical), the overland and maritime routes are developing side by side. Plenty of ink has been used detailing Beijing's intentions regarding the East-West connections of the super Eurasian continent. Pipelines, railway lines, fiber-optic cables, telecommunications infrastructure and highways dominate discussions, together with talks about costs, feasibility studies, the question of security, and the return on investment. The land Silk Road is certainly an imposing challenge that is not just commercial in nature but sets the foundation for greater cultural and social integration between neighbouring countries. It is a project that in the long term aims to blend together the Eurasian continent and overcome the contradictions contained therein through win-win cooperation and economic development.

The maritime route is a more structured project, tied mainly to two intrinsic needs of the People's Republic of China. The first is commercial and concerns the need for Beijing to ship its goods along established routes, creating ports and supply facilities along the way. The objective is to increase profits from cargo ships, especially when they return to China filled with goods, as well as to create new global sorting centers at ports set up along the maritime silk road. Important examples can be found in Pakistan with the development of the Gwadar port. The first phase was completed in 2006, and the second has been in progress since 2007, though the port was inaugurated in November 2016 and has been operational since. The project should be completed in the coming decades, with potentially 45 anchorage points, drainage of the approaching canal to about 20 meters, and a total trade turnover of over 400 million tonnes. The major benefit of this arrangement is to divide goods according to necessity, value and supply, choosing between an overland or maritime route. The port of Gwadar is connected principally through pipelines to the Chinese city of Kashi. This is a great example of how diversification can be achieved with the maritime route, used mainly for transportable goods, while the Gwadar port becomes an important hub in the oil and gas trade, especially thanks to progress in methane and regasification technology.

Other major maritime silk-route destinations include Venice and Athens, with the port of Piraeus already owned by COSCO of China for many years, a company that specializes in port activities and the integration of harbours along the maritime silk road based on the model of the Gwadar port. Venice is currently only a reminder of the ancient Silk Road, but if its past role is to be reprised, where in its modern garb it would today be the final landing point of the South Sea BRI, it would certainly require large investments to feed a network of dense exchanges. China would then have a maritime route in Southern Europe that is linked mainly overland to its northern corridor.

The other reason (that are less well known) pushing the People's Republic of China to invest in such extensive maritime routes concerns the naval doctrine adopted by the Chinese navy. The United States maintains a remarkable ability to project power across all five continents thanks to the size of its navy, which has grown quite steadily over the last century. Beijing realized that possessing such power projection would undergird the viability of its maritime routes, guarding against pirates as well as as obviating the possibility of a naval blockade in time of war, something always on the back of the minds of Chinese strategists.

A parallel in terms of security is easily observed when analysing the overland route of the Silk Road and the security that necessarily accompanies such an extensive infrastructure network. In this sense, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the accession of both Pakistan and India into the Organization, aims to create the conditions for peaceful development while avoiding tensions between neighbouring countries and different ethnic groups. Beijing is well aware that there is no prosperity without security, especially in the context of underdevelopment and in such a diverse continent with respect to human geography.

In military and naval terms, Beijing's budget has reached significant levels, rising from about 10 billion dollars in 1989 to about 110 billion in 2017. With such investment, Beijing has been able to launch three new submarine models (Type 93, Type 94, and Type 95) as well as a refurbished aircraft carrier (Type 001) together with the construction of China’s first fully equipped homemade aircraft carrier (Type 001A). The main focus for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is a strategic investment in amphibious and small vessels that provide the means to project power in order to influence the power dynamics of the South China Sea, this in the context of American harassment to dominate the Sea. In this sense, the strategy of denying America a presence in the South China sea is also accompanied by the construction of artificial islands and the development of new anti-ship missiles with supersonic capabilities.

Security and investment seem to be the engine of the Chinese BRI project, and connectivity appears to be the transmission chain.

Maximum attention is also being given to the creation of seaports for the PLAN, as seen with China's first foreign base in Djibouti, a particularly strategic location due to the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb.

An aspect of the Chinese BRI that is less well known, and about which we still have few details, is the Arctic route. The Arctic is formally shared between the United States, Northern Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden and is administered by the Arctic Council. Non-member countries include France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South, Korea, the Netherlands, Poland, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the People's Republic of China.

Recently, Russia and China begun a fruitful discussion on the exploitation of the Arctic routes. The July 2017 meeting between Xi Jinping and Medvedev confirmed Moscow and Beijing’s intention is to jointly develop the Chinese maritime Silk Road though the Arctic, serving to diversify trade routes and involving neighbouring states in port projects and scientific research. Beijing has every intention in the future of moving its goods through the Arctic from China to Europe, thereby reducing the distances involved by up to 20-30%, saving time, fuel and human resources in the process. Considering that 90% of Chinese goods are transported by sea, even a small change would generate savings and bigger profits. In the face of such an irresistible opportunity, China is not wasting any time. A few days ago, the Xuelong icebreaker (the Russian Federation is the only country possessing two nuclear icebreakers) sailed through the Northwest Passage in the Arctic, reaching North America from Asia in virtually no time, constituting an event of historic importance, this being the first time a Chinese ship has completed this route. Equally important for business, COSCO, the Chinese giant, completed in 2013 the Northeast Passage in the Arctic, starting from the Chinese port of Dalian and arriving in Rotterdam, shaving the duration of the journey by a third, down from 45 days to 30.

There are some considerations regarding the Arctic region to be made, both from a practical and realistic point of view. There are currently three usable routes, namely the northeast, northwest and “north-north” (crossing the North Pole). The first is the one through which Russia and China intend to shorten shipping times, in spite of the difficulties faced by the current lack of infrastructure as well as an unwelcome environment, complicating things and making the whole endeavour extremely expensive to develop. In this sense, cooperation between Russia and China is highly profitable for both countries, who are interested in proposing this route to other countries as well, resulting in increased transit volumes. Currently the route can be used for about four months of the year. The northwest route has problems with deep ice that prevents icebreakers from clearing a passage for a sufficient duration to allow for a commercial route. The “north-north” passage, cutting straight through the North Pole, is inaccessible until all ice is melted, something scientists predict will occur by 2050, with all the related consequences.

Inevitably, Arctic routes represent the future in terms of opportunities and savings in cost. In comparison to the Suez Canal, which is the current route through which China reaches Europe, entailing a journey of nearly 12,000 nautical miles, a route through the Northwest Passage in comparison cuts to journey to under 7,000 nautical miles.

Beijing is investing in infrastructure to reduce time and increase profit. The Arctic route has all the indications of becoming a central node of the BRI initiative. China’s commitment to development of the Arctic route is comparable to another titanic project that is also central to the strategy of the maritime Silk Road and is occurring in Nicaragua, namely the construction of an alternative to the Panama Canal. How viable these gigantic projects are remains a matter of time, resting mainly on the acquisition of new technologies that transform the impossible into the possible, whereby the accessibility of new technology allow for a reduction in research and developmental costs.

In the not-too-distant future, transit routes through the Arctic will assume a certain level of importance vis-à-vis the global geopolitics of Russia and China. Beijing and Moscow seem to have every intention of developing this innovative route with every means at their disposal, adding to the maritime silk road an unanticipated but highly beneficial route. Creating a partnership with Russia in the Arctic will enable Beijing to set foot in the area, as well as allowing it to be involved in the exploitation of hydrocarbons and other natural resources. Combined with the Russian Federation's increasing ability to penetrate the Arctic and thereby create the necessary infrastructure, the Arctic route is something that can increasingly be offered as a proposition to partner nations.

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Laughing.Man's picture

Have the Nicaraguan canal project been restarted?  Last I checked, the project was canceled.

jeff montanye's picture

looks like the environmental and human damage plus a wild card volcano may have made it a canal too far.

but even with such misteps and the environmental damage that probably ensues from economic development, compare this chinese government willed belt and road initiative in its totality with the u.s. government's multi-trillion, two decade "global war on terrorism", which has ruined and ended how many lives?  

which do you figure reduces, say, pakistani terrorism more, building up its port facilities or bombing it with drones?

thanks neocons of both parties.

new game's picture

the crumble is on. soon the crumble becomes rot(dc crony corruption) and the whole fuking mess comes down. unfortunatly, the middle class takes the brunt of loss. but hey, they already are, just speeds up the process...

Slack Jack's picture

The “north-north” passage, cutting straight through the North Pole, is inaccessible until all ice is melted, something scientists predict will occur by 2050, with all the related consequences.

Record-Setting Hurricanes; Record temperatures; Record-Setting Wildfires; ya think it might be global warming?


So, why is the global rise in temperatures so worrisome?

For one thing, as temperatures rise good farmland will become desert (e.g., dust-bowl conditions will probably return to the American Midwest).

Another major problem is sea-level rise.

Have a look at

The U.S. Geological Survey people claim that;

The Greenland ice sheet melting will raise sea-level 6.55 meters (21.5 feet),
the West Antarctica ice sheet melting will raise sea-level 8.06 meters (26.4 feet),
the East Antarctica ice sheet melting will raise sea-level 64.8 meters (212.6 feet),
and all other ice melting will raise sea-level 0.91 meters (3 feet).

For a grand total of about 80 meters (263 feet).

So, what does an 80 meter (263 feet) rise in sea-level mean. Have a look at the following map of the world after an 80 meter rise. It means that over one billion people will have to be resettled to higher ground and that much of the most productive agricultural land will be under water. Fortunately, at current rates, the Greenland ice sheet will take over a thousand years to melt and the Antarctica ice sheet, much longer. However, the greater the temperature rise the faster the ice sheets will melt, bringing the problem much closer. Remember, the huge ice sheet that recently covered much of North America, almost completely melted in only 15,000 years (today, only the Greenland ice sheet, and some other small patches of it, remain). Since then (15,000 years ago), sea-levels have risen about 125 meters (410 feet), only 80 meters to go.

The ice sheets have been continuously melting for thousands of years. What is left of them today, is still melting, and will continue to melt. Human caused global warning will cause this remnant to melt significantly faster. This is a big, big, problem.

For HUGE detailed maps of the "World after the Melt" go to:

Global temperatures are increasing. And by quite a lot each year.

2016 is the hottest year on record for global temperatures.

This is 0.0380 degrees centigrade hotter than the previous record year which was 2015.

0.0380 is a large increase in just one year.

2015 was the hottest year (at that time) for global temperatures.

This was 0.1601 degrees hotter than the previous record year which was 2014.

0.1601 is an absolutely huge increase in just one year (at this rate temperatures would increase by 16 degrees in a century).

2014 was the hottest year (at that time) for global temperatures.

This was 0.0402 degrees hotter than the previous record year which was 2010.

The conspiracy to hide global warming data.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is given tax money to make global temperature records available to the public. However, certain people at NOAA continually sabotage this aspect of NOAA's mandate. For example, these people have (deliberately) sabotaged the web-page that delivers the temperature records.

Look for yourself:

Go to the page: scroll down to the The Global Anomalies and Index Data section and click the download button and see what happens. Well, you get the message:

"Not Found. The requested URL /monitoring-references/faq/anomalies-download was not found on this server."

I guess that the 2017 data must be truly horrible if they have to hide it away.
It turns out that this seems to be the case; NASA reports that:

July 2017 had the hottest average land temperatures on record.

The new July 2017 record was +1.20 degrees centigrade above the 20th century average (of the July data). The previous record average land temperature for July was just last year. It was +1.10 degrees above the 20th century average.

Did the media bother to tell you about this? No!

The average land temperatures for August 2017 are second only to those of last year, August 2016.

peddling-fiction's picture

The "canal" was moved southwards.

A transoceanic railroad connecting the South of Peru and Brazil is about to be constructed.

It will go through Bolivia, and will also connect Paraguay with another rail line. Uruguay will be reached by Amazonic waterway (it exists already but will be further dredged).

null's picture

Yes, your commie media has repeatedly told us this stuff.
You think because you can effectively copy paste 100 data points out of millions that makes you authoritative?

Go get your uberpolluting pals (you know who they be) to change their ways before trying to trip up the USA. K?

TheAnswerIs42's picture

Stop with the climate doom porn, OK?

It is absolute nonsense produced by rent seeking speculation founded on poorly understood and extremely complicated chaotic climate systems.

How much of the current warming is natural and how much caused by humans?

There is no empirical evidence because the human effect is so slight it is almost unmeasurable.

Someone once said that science advances one death at a time.

Do us all a favor and take one for the Gipper.


webmatex's picture

Yes the neocon "break brics" strategy is doomed.

Russia and Iran are planning a canal from Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf, this if completed would be a real geopolital game changer.

Better on the bric wagon than off.

US would solve many dire problems by participating.

I really want the Bering Strait tunnel to be built linking Russ/Alaska - then i would know that the worse times would be behind us.

You may call me a dreamer...

Zip_the_Zap's picture

Jeff, this is a very brilliant and insightful comment. You received only 6 up votes because it is an in-your-face-comment holding up a mirror to the vengeful, arrogant Angelo-Zionists who believe progress is achieved via a bigger and better bomb, and a good investment is one the kills the most people for the most amount of money (meaning, the more expensive the "weapons systems" the more graft, patronage and John Lobb shoes).

Hong Kong Phooey's picture

"The “north-north” passage, cutting straight through the North Pole, is inaccessible until all ice is melted, something scientists predict will occur by 2050, with all the related consequences."

Why did we have to ruin a perfectly good geopolitics article with this Chicken Little nonsense?

jeff montanye's picture

why is it nonsense to think the world is warming?  it's warmed and cooled many times in its history and a lot of observation makes it look like its warming, generally, now.  

where i live in florida never had black (cuban) anoles (little lizards) before maybe ten years ago; they stayed south of here where it was warmer and didn't freeze.  now we have fewer freezes and they are everywhere around here.  i welcome them; they seem to have reduced the cockroach population significantly.  this is far from scientific but it is observation.

people can argue endlessly over how much human burning of fossil fuel contributes to this trend, which i think exists independently but probably is increased by man, by how much is hard to say.

but burning fossil fuel certainly adds to pollution and uses up limited supplies of oil which makes so many useful products, as well as energy when burned.   why not reduce pollution and save resources for the future, especially since solar power in sunny places and wind power in windy places is price competitive with coal and oil, without subsidies, now?  the opposition to this seems quasi religious almost.

RationalLuddite's picture

Yup. That was the glaring nonsense.  Rest of the article was informative though. 

Angry Plant's picture

Because the entire article is based upon that happening.

The same basic asumptions in this article would also predict a boom in westcoast US trade with europe through the same passage.

NoDecaf's picture

Right, the author isn't picking sides on global warming/cooling simply stating what the Chinese and Russian plans are for that area.

Interesting reactions though.

stecha's picture

The world is risen to go around the US. We are the new world island and even third world countries may have it better soon.

WTFUD's picture

Saddle your posse up, we'll head them off at the iceberg!

Sandmann's picture

Nothing to do with the size of the US Navy and everything to do with choke points for Chinese trade such as Straits of Molucca.

China knows how USA uses war for commercial gain. Obama even appointed the descendant of Opium traders as Secretary of State to make the point clear to China.


Come On Puu See's picture

Straits of MALACCA. Molucca is a brand of condoms in Spain.

desertboy's picture

"through win-win cooperation"

"new technologies that transform the impossible into the possible"

Federico Pieraccini and Pepe Escobar both seem to have new gigs welcoming everyone aboard the Chinese love boat.

DEMIZEN's picture

they key is to ship under ice.

any_mouse's picture

The key is due to non-man-made alignments, the sun is reaching more Northern latitudes at Summer Solstice.

This is warming the Arctic. Ice won't be much of a problem.

Opening the Arctic Sea, like a present on Christmas Day.

Or a white woman amidst a group of migrants.

DEMIZEN's picture

not warming fast enough. if i remember right the route is open 120 days a year and opening wont widen much in next 25 years. shortens times by half, shortens distance by a third and cuts choke point racketeering. new icebreakers or cargo submarine drones. my guess is shipping with submarine drones is cheaper. 

Pliskin's picture

Cue ISIS in the the Arctic in 3...2...1...


any_mouse's picture

Watching "Trapped", a mystery set in a remote part of Iceland. The town is vying to have the Chinese build a port there as part of a route from China to USA.

I knew the only way that would work is via the Arctic and Russia.

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

man made global warming is a joke, planet is not in an ice age, ergo it has warmed..and humans took advantage of a warm we complain ?? ungrateful species.

The Shodge's picture

All information of the article is in the title, what a waste of space

Herdee's picture

Another reason why Canada is going in on trade deals in the far east. Combine that with an EU free trade deal. Meantime the U.S. becomes isolated on purpose.

Gohigher's picture

If you can build it, America will bomb it. Because we are the Guardians of Chaos and Disorder.

And when I die off as you shun our exceptional way of life, you will cease to exist !! HA HA !!

oh, wait.... um.... hold on, I'll get back to you later.

Zip_the_Zap's picture

:-) OMG that was funny as all heck!!!

FBaggins's picture

If global cooling is actually upon us, the future is unlikely to be very silky for anyone and least plausible of all would be an Artic route.  

gdpetti's picture

exactly... integlacials don't last forever, especially since the signs of it ending are so apparent., but what is done on the surface isn't what's being done below... The puppet show continues until it ends... same as in so  many Hollywood movies.... they don't tell the public until they can't hide it anymore.

Arrest Hillary's picture

The Northern Latitude Alliance .... is coming together .... my suggestion is nuclear sleds as big as football fields .... capable of carry olympic pools full of oil ?

JibjeResearch's picture

My fellow Americans.. don't fight (Russia, China, BRICS, SCO, ASEAN, EU)

Go make money off of them...

It's the best solution to protect yourself from American Elites..

Play their games, and play better than them..