| by Victor Cherubim

( August 15, 2013, London, Sri Lnaka Guardian) I was in Dalian harbour, in Northeast China as a guest visiting the Port, some twenty years ago and hardly would I have imagined then, that it will be of such significance as a port, to inaugurate the sea route from China to Europe.

China is rightly asserting its interests in the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans. China is now a permanent Observer member at the Arctic Council. Some observers say it is “geopoliticalness, not commercial” for China to open up the Arctic route. While other critics see Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port, Hambantota , in South Sri Lanka, as a Chinese threat to south Asia, China, strangely or in fact strategically, has other ideas.
It is great news for the merchant marine that m.v. “Yong Sheng”, a Cosco Shipping Group 19,461 mt. Freighter, sailed on its maiden voyage from Dalian on Tuesday 13 August 2013 bound for Europe with ETA Bering Strait 25 August, ETA Rotterdam, 11 September, a journey of 35 days, a saving of 13 valuable sea days.

This vessel is the first Chinese merchant ship to travel across the Northeast Polar Passage, a distance of 2,936 nautical miles to Europe, a revolution in trade, an eye opener for world shipping. Polar Research Institute of China, projects that China’s trade will grow to $7 .6 trillion by 2020. “Crucially, the northern route to Europe along Siberia’s shoreline could cut shipping times between Asian and European ports by about one third”. This means that operating costs, fuel consumption and carbon emissions will be cut, if not greatly reduced.

New and innovative ways of doing business have always appealed to the Chinese mind.

This is because China has vast wealth of human and natural resources, besides relying on trade with the rest of the world to feed its vast industrial machine. The image of China being interested in expansion by land is an outdated strategy. Besides, the Chinese never wanted to conquer the world by land. Sea power is mightier than land power. This is history, sea history for short.

This innovation is not overnight. It has taken time; it has taken years, if not centuries. According to the F.T. “Sir Francis Drake and Captain James Cook were among the many adventurers and entrepreneurs who coveted the routes as potential shortcuts to lucrative trading markets in East Asia.” Besides, it was the Northeast Passage that claimed the life of explorer Sir John Franklin and the crews of his two ships, HMS”Erebus” and HMS”Terror” in 1874.

In recent history, two ships “Beluga Fraternity” and “Beluga Foresight” have traversed the Bering Strait, the East Siberian Sea and the Vilkitsky Strait, connecting the Kara and the Laptev Seas. A year ago Chinese icebreaker, “Xuelong” docked in Iceland after a pioneering voyage, said Icelandic scientist Egili Thor Nielson, who was board the icebreaker. Last year China bought a whole port in N.E.Iceland in preparation for the opening up of the Arctic Ocean to shipping.

That is the kind of forward thinking; we need to get used to in the years ahead. It means that climate change opens Arctic lanes for longer periods each year. But we also know that parts of the Arctic waters are free from ice for only two months a year.

“The Russian authorities have granted 372 permits this year – more than eight times the 46 full transits made in 2012. There were just 4 in 2010.But despite the impact of climate change; experts say it will be some time before the North east Passage rivals the Suez Canal in terms of traffic”.

China is rightly asserting its interests in the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans. China is now a permanent Observer member at the Arctic Council. Some observers say it is “geopoliticalness, not commercial” for China to open up the Arctic route. While other critics see Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port, Hambantota , in South Sri Lanka, as a Chinese threat to south Asia, China, strangely or in fact strategically, has other ideas.

The main point at issue is the practicality of the Northeast Passage in the Arctic. Who are the

Insurers who are underwriting the Arctic route? Who are the people who are interested in global warming? What will it do for us in Sri Lanka?

For most of us in Sri Lanka who cares, if the Chinese use the Arctic or the Suez, so long as they bring our goods cheaper to Magampura. The world wants the cost of living cheaper.

For too long we have thought of China as only having one agenda or commanding one ocean. We now have to get used to thinking outside the box.

Closer than the Arctic, The Labour Party in UK has clashed with Next and Tesco over jobs for foreign workers. “Next” the high street clothing chain, has admitted that it is forced to hire Polish workers because it cannot find enough British people to take temporary summer jobs. Is Labour guilty of breathtaking hypocrisy, similar to our critics in Sri Lanka who oppose cheaper goods via Magampura?

Is it farfetched to compare the UK Border Agency who have made no effort to trace 120,000 missing migrants, to those who criticise innovative ways, as having only themselves to blame for their folly.

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