Norway shadowed the Snow Dragon

The Chinese "Xue Long" is the world's most powerful non-nuclear power icebreaker. Photo: Chinare5

China wants to be a player in the melting Arctic and shows muscles by sailing the icebreaker “Xue Long” (Snow Dragon) straight across through the Central Arctic Shipping Route. Norway’s Coast Guard followed into the ice north of Svalbard.


“Xue Long” is Monday sailing the Bering Sea after crushing the ice across the Arctic Ocean in a highly prestigious voyage for Beijing. The icebreaker 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.

“Xue Long” 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, according to the blog from the voyage.

Followed by Norwegian Coast Guard
While sailing north of Svalbard into more thick ice-conditions heading up towards the North Pole, the “Xue Long” was “partly followed by the Norwegian coast guard,” the same blog reads without giving any more comments on the geopolitical background. The Norwegian Coast Guard has not replied to questions from BarentsObserver on why a Coast Guard vessel was following “Xue Long” on its northbound voyage.

On August 30, “Xue Long” reached its farthest point north on this cruise, at 87°39’N, 123°11’E.

The increased international attention towards the Arctic is an important reason for Norway to show sovereignty in the waters around Svalbard.

Global warming dramatically reduces the ice-cap and open for new activities. While most of the resources on the continental shelf in the Arctic fall within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones by the Arctic costal states, the new shipping lanes are of more interest to China. So is the Arctic research. Beijing has already for years been knocking on the door to obtain observer status to the Arctic Council, the eight-nation international body consisting of nations with land north of the Arctic Circle. So far without success.

Speaking in Beijing some years ago, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said he welcomes China’s application for permanent observer status. Since then have the Norwegian, Chinese relations frozen following the Norwegian Nobel committee’s announcement in 2010 that dissident Liu Xiaobo would be peace laureate. And if Norway should consider China’s application to be permanent observer to the Arctic Council, the two countries must at least talk to each other. So far, Beijing does not want to talk to Oslo.

Whatever Norway says, Canada has another approach and are not that willing to open the Arctic door for China. Since all decisions in the Arctic Council need unanimity, China remains outside.

China increases Arctic presence 
Another way into the Arctic, as Beijing sees it, is by showing presence. The Yellow River Station in Ny Ålesund on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago was established in 2004. It is a multi-discipline, integrative research base accommodating 18 researchers.  

This summer’s voyage with “Xue Long” is likely just a short sign of what will be in the years to come. In July, Aker Arctic in Helsinki, signed a contract to perform the conceptual and basic design for yet another large Chinese icebreaker for Arctic research. The icebreaker will according to a press-release from Aker Arctic be 120 meters long and have a breadth of maximum 22,3 m with a draught of 8,5 m.    

Another sign that China is serious about its Arctic presence is found in Shanghai. A new campus is currently being built in the mouth of the Yangtz River. It will be a 156.858 square meter facility which will become a comprehensive base of future Chinese Antarctic and Arctic expedition, reads the portal of this summer’s Chinare5 research expedition with “Xue Long.”

See the the route for voyage for “Xue Long” on the map of the Arctic Portal.