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China Focus: Northeast Asian countries eye Arctic seaway

Source:   Time:

CHANGCHUN, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- China's largest shipping firm is waiting for news that one of its ships will reach Rotterdam on Wednesday. A successful docking will mean it is the first Chinese merchant ship to travel to Europe via the Arctic Northeast Passage.

A vessel named "Yongsheng" of China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO), sailed from Dalian port, northeast China's Liaoning Province on Aug. 8, starting its maiden voyage along a new seaway in the icy Arctic Ocean.

To dock at Rotterdam port via the new passage, the ship has had to sail west across the Bering Strait, pass through a number of waters including the East Siberian Sea and Vilkitsky Strait. The journey is about 2,936 nautical miles and scheduled to be completed in 30 days.

Along the old route, south across the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal to reach Europe, it would take 12 or 15 days longer for COSCO, China's largest and leading enterprise specializing in global shipping, modern logistics and ship building.

Over the past several decades, global warming has led to the melting of ice in the Arctic Ocean, and ice cap areas are reduced by 40 percent in summer. For this reason, seaways are possible during warm seasons, usually from July to December.

The new passage will cut time, costs and fuel.

During the ongoing 9th China-Northeast Asia Expo, held at Changchun, capital city of Liaoning Province, member countries of Northeast Asia have been paying close attention to the new passage.

"Exploration of the Arctic Ocean, as well as some seaways, will have a profound impact on global geopolitical relationships and policies. Countries of Northeast Asia will have different strategies depending on their own benefits," said Fu Jingyun, professor of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

As China, Japan and Republic of Korea (ROK) have been approved by the Arctic Council with observer status, the three countries have more opportunities to voice and participate in the exploitation of resources of the Arctic.

During the expo, Yoon Joung-Ro, deputy mayor of Busan, the largest port city of ROK, said the Arctic Northeast Passage is currently the shortest maritime route linking Europe and East Asia. Busan may become the starting port or terminal of the new passage.

"Once the passage can be put into use, Busan will play a great role in the future," Yoon Joung-Ro said.

The new seaway could bring more opportunities for Japan to develop its fishery sector, said Shujiro Urata, an Asia-Pacific Studies professor of Waseda University.

Some experts, however, are still cautious, saying it is too early to tell what sustainable and positive changes the new seaway may bring to the region.

Liu Shuang, vice president of Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, said that extreme weather in the polar region will block exploration and lead to safety problems of transportation in the region.

Another CASS professor, Zhang Yunling, said infrastructure constructions along the cities of the new passage remain backward. "Although the distance has been shortened, the construction of a logistics network needs to be improved."

Northeast Asian countries, including Russia, China, Japan, ROK and others, should strengthen cooperation, as all of them could benefit from the abundance of resources along the route, such as fishery, oil and gas, said Charles E. Morrison, president of Hawaii-based East-West Center.

David Arase, professor of Johns Hopkins - Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies, said the Arctic will bring huge change for economies and policies of Northeast Asia and the world, but no one knows when.

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