Russia and China are becoming closer strategic partners, and the Arctic is gradually becoming an area where the two sides can potentially carry out their long-term cooperation. In 2017 Chinese and Russian leaders jointly proposed the "Ice Silk Road (ISR)," with an aim to promote cooperation and development in the Arctic within the context of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
China considers the Arctic a shorter and safer route connecting the Chinese mainland with Europe, it’s white paper on its Arctic policy states that the BRI should provide opportunities for parties interested in creating the Arctic Silk Road, sustainable economic and social development of the Arctic.
The ISR is an open initiative that abandons classical geopolitical thinking and advocates cooperation and a Chinese win-win perspective. Against the backdrop of geopolitical conflicts in the Arctic and bottlenecks in regional governance and cooperation, the ISR and the cooperation of countries under this framework are the highlight of current Arctic cooperation and represent a new direction for future Arctic governance and cooperation.
China's Policies and Positions on Participating in Arctic Affairs
1. Deepening the exploration and understanding of the Arctic
2. Protecting the eco-environment of the Arctic and addressing climate chang
3. Utilizing Arctic Resources in a Lawful and Rational Manner
4. Participating Actively in Arctic governance and international cooperation
5. Promoting peace and stability in the Arctic Conclusion
The Chinese vision of the Ice Silk Road involves the development of scientific, trade and economic cooperation with all Arctic countries in different directions. However, while developing cooperation with various Arctic countries on joint research and development of the Arctic, China is giving priority to Russia. In the foreseeable future, the main stimulus for the development of the "Ice Road" in this part of the Arctic will be economic projects in the North of Russia. The main regional project, whose fate is closely connected with the development of the ISR, is the development of the fuel and energy wealth of the Yamal Peninsula.
Ice Silk Road (ISR) projects include:
China-Russia Yamal LNG
Partners: China, Russia, France
Status: Production commenced December 2017
The world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, this is China and Russia's first joint Ice Silk Road (ISR) venture. Partners in the project include Russia's Novatek, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), French firm Total, and China's Silk Road Fund. Together, CNPC and the Silk Road Fund hold a 30-percent stake.
Partners: China, Russia
Status: Deal signed
In June 2019, the China National Chemical Engineering Group and Russian firm Neftegazholding signed a deal on developing the Payakha oilfield, promising investment of USD5 billion over four years.
This is Russia and China's second Ice Silk Road (ISR) energy project after Yamal. Payakha lies on the Taymyr peninsula in the region of Krasnoyarsk. According to reports, the project includes the construction of six crude oil processing facilities, a crude oil port capable of handling 50 million tonnes a year, 410 kilometres of pressurized oil pipelines, a 750-megawatt power station and an oil storage facility.
Partners: China, Russia
Status: Deal signed, progressing
Located just southwest of Vladivostok and close to the Chinese border, the port of Zarubino is ice free year-round. In 2014, the government of Jilin province, the China Merchants Group and Russia's largest port operator signed a framework deal to develop Zarubino into the biggest port in northeast Asia over 18 years, with capacity to handle 60 million tonnes of goods a year. Railways linking the port with inland regions of China will also be built.
In September 2018, as the first stage of this project, a shipping route started running from Hunchun on the Tumen river in Jilin to Zarubino and then on to Zhoushan in Zhejiang province. The new Zarubino port will strengthen links between northeast China and the rest of the world, and aid development in Russia's far east. It will also be a key link on the northeast passage trade route to Europe.
Arkhangelsk deepwater port
Partners: China, Russia
Arkhangelsk is the largest city on Russia's northern coast, situated on the country's European side close to Finland. The new deepwater port has been planned for over a decade. It will be located 55 kilometres from Arkhangelsk on the island of Mud'yug, which lies in the Dvina river delta close to existing port infrastructure. Linking up with Russia's railway network, the port will help develop a combined sea-land transportation system, and improve links to Siberia.
The local government predicts the new port and associated railways will create 40,000 jobs in the region. According to one expert, the China Poly Group signed an agreement of intent in 2016, earmarking investment of 550 million yuan (USD79 million). The China Ocean Shipping Company has also made its interest in the project clear.
China-Finland Arctic Monitoring and Research Centre
Partners: China, Finland
Status: Deal signed
In April 2018, China's Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth signed an agreement with Finland’s Arctic Space Centre to establish a new monitoring and research centre for the polar region. The facility, based in northern Finland's Sodankylä, will collect, process and share satellite data, providing an open international platform to support climate research, environmental monitoring and Arctic navigation.
The centre will contribute to China's "Digital Silk Road" plan, which aims to create a spatial information system for regions covered by the BRI. It will also promote the Chinese Academy of Sciences' "Global Three Poles Environment" project, which aims to better understand global climate change.
The project was inaugurated in October 2018.
China-Iceland Arctic Science Observatory
Partners: China, Iceland
Status: Operating since late 2018
In October 2018, the China-Iceland Arctic Science Observatory was officially opened in the city of Karholl in northern Iceland.
Set up to monitor climate and environmental change in the Arctic, the observatory is managed by the Polar Research Institute of China and Iceland's Institute of Research Centres. It can accommodate 15 people and will also be open to researchers from third countries.
The partnership started in 2012 when the two governments signed a deal on Arctic cooperation. That year also saw a memorandum of understanding signed between organisations from the two countries on a joint aurora observatory. Plans were expanded in 2017, with work at the observatory now covering the atmosphere, the oceans, glaciers, geophysics, remote sensing and biology.
Chinese shipping firms handle LNG cargos bound for China. In July 2018, seven months after operations started, the first shipment of LNG from Yamal arrived in Jiangsu province's Nantong. A second phase of the project is now being constructed on the Gydan peninsula, to the east of Yamal, and due to begin operating in 2023.