China, Russia Team Up on Ice Silk Road

China and Russia have reached an agreement to jointly build an “Ice Silk Road” along the Northern Sea Route, according to China’s belt and road portal.

China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev agreed to work on the matter during a meeting in Moscow, Russia on July 4, 2017 as the two countries aim to expand cooperation.

Noting that Russia is an important partner in the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi expressed his hope that the two countries would carry out the Northern Sea Route cooperation so as to realize the Ice Silk Road and implement various connectivity projects.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a joint communiqué at the 20th China-Russia Prime Ministers’ Regular Meeting in December 2015. The two sides agreed to strengthen cooperation on development and utilization of the Northern Sea Route and carry out research on shipping along the Arctic routes.

The Arctic routes include two major routes: the Northeast Passage, also called the Northern Sea Route by Russia, and the Northwest Passage.

The Northeast Passage, with most of its route hugging Russia’s northern coast, is the shortest course for many regions in China. Sailing distance between ports in northern China and Western Europe, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea is 25 to 55 percent shorter than the traditional shipping routes.

The Arctic route, which presents opportunities for cooperation between the countries along the route, could increase the importance of ports in northern China, such as Dalian and Tianjin.

Earlier this year, China launched an official website for its “One Belt, One Road” strategy with the aim of “promoting information sharing, civilization exchanges and win-win cooperation.” The portal demonstrates the latest developments and achievements and promote information sharing and exchanges among enterprises, social organizations and citizens of countries along the Belt and Road routes.

As Arctic summer sea ice continues shrinking, shipping companies are already preparing for the possible surge in ship traffic on two major Arctic sea routes. Although it would not be possible to open the Northwest Passage in Canada and the Northern Sea Route in Russia year round, shipowners are already investing in vessels capable of sailing through ice.