Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Polar Silk Road

     China has recently published a new five year plan regarding their intent to build what they are calling the "Polar Silk Road". With the advance of climate change, ice coverage in the Arctic is expected to rapidly decline creating navigable waters where ice once stood. Vessels will be able to transit the Arctic in two thirds of the time of the traditional route from East Asia through the Suez. This not only is concerning regarding Chinese Arctic influence militarily but also what it means for the active defense against climate change. 

    Firstly, China has already declared in 2018 themselves to be a "near Arctic power" which makes their commitment to the Arctic region transparent. We have already seen with the South China Sea conflict that the Chinese are willing and capable of committing large amounts of monetary, naval and construction resources in order to exert their influence where it doesn't belong. It is entirely possible that the Chinese may employ the same techniques in the Arctic as in the South China Sea. The lack of population, existing infrastructure and generally unexplored territory breeds a perfect opportunity for China to artificially colonize the Arctic. Existing islands buried under the current ice layer could provide sanctuary for the Chinese Navy or the blueprint for a military base.

    Secondly, the excitement of Chinese to begin maritime trade operations undermines the goal of most Western nations in slowing or reversing climate change. The Chinese commitment to the Arctic fundamentally means that they have abandoned any possible cooperation in terms of climate agreement because the future of trade will be contingent on it. This is incredibly dangerous, possibly even more so than the treat if the Chinese Navy in the Arctic. Having such a large industrious power fully committed to a goal in direct opposition to a collective global effort is very concerning. 

    I believe that likely scenarios in the future are going to look a lot like the current one in the South China Sea and the one I purposed in the Arctic. A succession of frozen conflicts and states of contested peace situations will become more and more commonplace. However, before we directly engage the Chinese in the Arctic and jockey for power perhaps our greatest defense would be not allowing the opportunity to arise for China in the first place. Fighting the Chinese Arctic initiative I believe begins with a strong collective push push from the West to combat climate change. If we can manage to force the hand of the Chinese to participate in robust climate change corrective efforts then perhaps we can undermine their Arctic initiative before it begins. 


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