Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China's Plan to Pass Through Northwest Waters Could Threaten Canadian Sovereignty

China's Plan to Pass Through Northwest Waters Could Threaten Canadian Sovereignty

(Photo : Getty Images/ Oleg Nikishin) China plans to dispatch cargo vessels to sail through the Northwest strait

To cut back on travel times between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, China has encouraged ships flying its flag to take the Northwest Passage via the Arctic Ocean, a route opened up by global warming.

China is increasingly becoming active in the Polar Regions as it grows to be the biggest mining investor in Greenland along with its free trade with Iceland. Taking the Arctic Ocean route would save Chinese companies time and money. An example is the journey from Shanghai to Hamburg which if taken via the Arctic route is 2, 800 nautical miles shorter than if taken through the Suez Canal, which would take 12277 nautical miles.

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To help Chinese mariners plan maritime voyages, China's Maritime Safety Administration released the Arctic Navigation Guide this month, a 365-page guide, compiled by ocean and shipping experts, which includes detailed information on sea and ice weather. According to China's Ministry of Transport, the guidebook serves as an arctic passage operating manual.

The spokesman of China's Maritime Safety Administration, Liu Pengfei said "There will be ships with Chinese flags sailing through this route in the future". He added that "Once this route is commonly used, it will directly change global maritime transportation and have a profound influence on international trade, the world economy, capital flow and resource exploitation." 

When asked if China views the Northwest Passage as part of Canada's waters or an international waterway, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying  said that Canada considers it to be part of their territorial domain. Some countries, on the other hand, believe that the Northwest Passage is open to international navigation.

In Ottawa, Canada's Foreign Minister Spokesman Stepehen Dion, said that an automatic right to transit does not exist in the Northwest Passage waterways.

"China has also noted that Canada has taken some management and control steps in the Northwest Passage, including that foreign ships before entering or crossing its exclusive economic zone and territorial waters report to and obtain Canada's permission," Hua said.

Joseph Pickerill, a representative of Canada, was quoted in an email saying "We welcome navigation that complies with our rules and regulations. Canada has an unfettered right to regulate internal waters".

Rob Huebert, a University of Calgary professor, has warned that China's encouragement of Northwest Passage shipping could threathen Canadian sovereignty if Chinese ships are dispatched without Ottawaa's consent.

However, the United States disagrees with the Canadian position saying that the Northwest passage is an international strait and should offer the right to transit passage. Washington has also said that Ottawa does not have the right to keep any ship from entering the Northwest Passage, although under international law, it may pass regulations to protect the environment.

So far, China has not taken any sides. Huasaid on Wednesday that China is considering both viewpoints including Canada's demand that ships ask for consent before crossing the strait.

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