Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic was outlined last year in an official Arctic policy white paper that detailed China's push to build infrastructure and conduct commercial shipping travel in the Arctic.
China hopes to establish a 'Polar Silk Road' through developing the Northern Sea Route would save commercial vessels 20 days versus that traditional route through the Suez Canal.
China's growing influence in the Arctic has led to the new commissioning of the 13,996-ton Xuelong 2 (Snow Dragon II), was transferred last week to the Polar Research Institute of China, part of the natural resources ministry, in Shanghai, after undergoing two weeks of sea trials, reported South China Morning Post.
China's 1st domestically-built polar research vessel and icebreaker "Xuelong 2" has started its 12-day trial voyage pic.twitter.com/tuF6OcwjqA— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) June 1, 2019
Qin Weijia, director in charge of polar research with China's State Oceanic Administration, told journalist during a press conference that the new icebreaker will be Station on the 36th Chinese scientific expedition to Antarctica, where it would carry out "scientific research."
Snow Dragon II is China's second icebreaker and the first to be domestically built.
Experts believe the icebreakers could pave the way for China to become a dominant player in the Arctic, which would be met with severe Western backlash.
The commissioning of the new icebreaker coincides with an escalating economic war between China and the US.
China's increasing presence in the Arctic, especially its partnership with Russia, recently triggered US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He described China as having "aggressive behavior" and has transformed the region into "an arena of global power and competition."
Last Wednesday, Defence One reported that US' top naval commander in Europe, Admiral James Foggo III, said early estimates show China is rapidly increasing its presence in the Arctic.
"Though it [China] sits more than 900 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the country has long been interested in the region's resources," he said.
Foggo said it's essential for the US Navy to continue modernization efforts and ramp up patrols in the Arctic as the region becomes "more accessible, to protect the American people, our sovereign territory and rights, and the natural resources and interests" of the US and its allies.
China has zero territorial claims in the Arctic, but that hasn't stopped the rising power of the world from establishing footholds in the regions.
China's long game is setting up the 'Polar Silk Road' by using icebreakers to clear shipping channels in the Arctic would allow for quicker shipping between China and Europe.