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Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 05:53 | SYDNEY
Friday 18 Aug 2017 | 05:53 | SYDNEY

Passage to China: Go Northwest, young man

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2 September 2010 12:14

Justin Jones is Navy Fellow at the Lowy Institute and is the maritime adviser to the MacArthur Foundation Lowy Institute Asia Security Project.

The news this morning is that a Russian commercial gas carrier has successfully exploited the famed Northwest Passage, carrying its cargo from Murmansk to Ningbo, China. This is the first large commercial vessel (70,000 tonnes of gas) to make the passage since the 2007 summer season, when the Northwest Passage was declared ice-free for the first time since records began in 1978.

The impact is significant. The route used is half the distance of that through the Suez Canal and will therefore be considerably cheaper in cost (four times cheaper, according to the SMH) and time.

Of course, for the moment, the Northwest Passage will be a seasonal route, unlike the Suez Canal. Here are some facts worth considering, though. China has observer status on the Arctic Council and has voiced a right of access to potential mineral wealth in the region. China has a research station established in Norway and deploys a Russian-built icebreaker to the area. Might there be potential here for a Sino-Russian joint venture, as discussed here'

China's sea lines of communication and various territorial claims in the South China Sea attract considerable scrutiny and debate. Spare a thought for more northern regions, where Mark II of this phenomenon may emerge.

Photo by Flickr user Walter Parenteau, used under a Creative Commons license.

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