China / Science

Nation aims to boost research, commerce in region

By Wang Qian (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-03 07:59

China's growing role in the Arctic will foster a win-win situation for all, said the head of the polar strategic research division under the Polar Research Institute of China.

"Infrastructure in the Arctic is weak, and it urgently needs Chinese labor and capital, while China can learn about advances in environmental protection and technologies during its engagement," said Zhang Xia, who is also deputy director of the China-Nordic Arctic Research Center.

Besides academic research, China should strengthen international cooperation in the area because it could become a geopolitical arena for scientific research and commerce, he said.

The US Geological Survey estimated that the polar north may hold up to 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil resources and 30 percent of its untapped natural gas supplies.

With climate change in the Arctic resulting in higher temperatures and a reduction in ocean ice coverage, the area has become increasingly accessible. That heightens the potential for oil and gas development and the establishment of a shorter northern sea transportation route.

The route is a shipping lane from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along Russia's Arctic coast, from the Barents Sea along Siberia to the Far East. The route lies in Arctic waters, and parts of it are free of ice for only two months a year.

"Mining the area's energy resources is not realistic for China, given current technological and political difficulties, but the use of the route is much more practical," Zhang said, adding that the route can save thousands of kilometers in travel from China's northern coastal cities to Europe.

In August, a vessel from China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co made its maiden voyage on the route, saving nine days and nearly 5,200 km. The company has scheduled another journey this year.

The use of the route is expected to expand, with its yearly volume of cargo traffic estimated to eventually hit 40 million metric tons, about 10 times the volume of 2012, according to a report released by the Russian International Affairs Council last year.

As the world eyes the Arctic, China is also actively expanding its presence in the area.

In May of last year, the country gained admission as an official observer state of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum.

In December, China opened the China-Nordic Arctic Research Center in Shanghai to provide a platform for academic cooperation. The first meeting was held in Iceland in early June.

"We plan to establish a scholar-exchange mechanism to strengthen the academic communication," Zhang said.