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China Commissions Its First Indigenous Icebreaker. US Lags Behind In “Arctic Race”

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China Commissions Its First Indigenous Icebreaker. US Lags Behind In "Arctic Race"

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China’s first indigenous polar research vessel and icebreaker – Xuelong 2 has passed all of its trials and was commissioned and transferred to the Polar Research Institute of China, SCMP reported.

The report claimed that the trials the ship underwent in June were 16 days, while earlier reports claimed they were 12.

The 13,996-tonne Xuelong 2 – or Snow Dragon II – was handed over to the Polar Research Institute of China, part of the natural resources ministry, in Shanghai, it is reportedly ready to carry out its first voyage to the Arctic later in 2019.

China Commissions Its First Indigenous Icebreaker. US Lags Behind In "Arctic Race"

Click to see full-size image

Qin Weijia, director in charge of polar research with China’s State Oceanic Administration, told a press conference that the vessel was expected to head for Zhongshan Station on the 36th Chinese scientific expedition to Antarctica, where it would carry out scientific research in both physical and chemical oceanography as well as maritime biological diversity.

The 122-metre-long vessel would become “an important platform … for polar oceanic environment investigation and scientific research”, he said.

The Xuelong 2 is China’s second icebreaker, and the first to be built domestically. Its sister ship, the Xuelong, was converted from an ice-breaking cargo vessel built by Ukraine in 1993.

Experts believe the Xuelong 2 will pave the way for China to construct its own nuclear-powered heavy icebreaker, which could have global implications. The nuclear icebreaker is allegedly being built, but any other information is unavailable.

Both Russia and China are making progress in their Arctic missions, with the US lagging behind.

Russia recently allowed operation of the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, which could potentially be used for Arctic missions, as well.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused both Moscow and Beijing of “aggressive behaviours” that have turned the polar region into “an arena of global power and competition.”

On July 10th, US top naval commander in Europe, Admiral James Foggo III spoke of the US concerns when it comes to Russia and China in the Arctic.

“We must pay particular attention to the improved capability of Russia to project power into the region, especially in light of Moscow’s aggressive and destabilizing actions in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. Russian forces have reoccupied seven former Soviet bases in the Arctic Circle and built two new ones: the Trefoil base in Franz Josef Land and the Northern Clover base on Kotelny Island. Last October, Russia jammed the GPS signals of NATO warships participating in Exercise Trident Juncture off Norway the alliance’s largest since the Cold War.”

He commented on China’s increasing ambitions in the region, as well.

“China, too, is seeking greater influence in the Arctic. Though it sits more than 900 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the country has long been interested in the region’s resources; in 1925, the Republic of China ratified the Svalbard (Spitsbergen) Treaty. But Beijing signaled a new chapter in its northward push with last year’s release of its new Arctic Policy. Identifying itself as a “Near-Arctic State,” China is eyeing investment opportunities that range from extracting natural resources to the commercial maritime traffic potential of the “Polar Silk Road.” China has also taken steps to strengthen its Arctic ties with Russia. At April’s International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg, representatives agreed to launch a Chinese-Russian Arctic Research Center, notwithstanding Chinese pursuit of numerous other research agreements with universities and research centers of Arctic states.”

Finally, he concluded that despite the US lagging behind, Russia and China were “wary partners with differing stances on proposed Arctic governance and development.”


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