With melting icecaps accelerating the opening of new shipping routes and the exploration of oil, gas and mineral deposits in the Arctic, China has been eager to gain a foothold in the region. Though it has no territorial claims in the Arctic, China has been lobbying for permanent observer status on the eight-member Arctic Council in a bid to gain influence.
Another way into the Arctic, as Beijing sees it, is by showing presence. The Chinese icebreaker “Xuelong”, also known under the name “Snow Dragon”, with a 119-member team aboard, became the first Chinese polar expedition has sailed all along the Northern Sea Route into the Barents Sea and upon return sailing a straight line from Iceland to the Bering Strait via the North Pole.
Xuelong returned to its base in Shanghai on Thursday after wrapping up the country’s fifth Arctic expedition, which kicked off from Qingdao in east China’s Shandong Province on July 2. The expedition team has performed various scientific research tasks during the expedition, including a systematic geophysical survey, installing of an automatic meteorological station, as well as launch of investigations on oceanic turbulence and methane content in the Arctic area.
They also held academic exchanges with their counterparts in Iceland, and the two groups conducted a joint oceanic survey in the waters around Iceland.
“Xuelong” left Akureyri, north on Iceland on August 20 and sailed to the edge of the Arctic ice-cap between Greenland and Svalbard. The giant icebreaker sailed into the ice north of Svalbard on August 25, heading for the so-called “future central Arctic shipping route” across the Arctic Ocean.
During the three-month voyage, the icebreaker traveled 18,500 nautical miles, including 5,370 nautical miles in the Arctic ice zone, Xinhuanet reports.
China established its first Arctic station, named Yellow River Station, in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard in Oct. 2003.