In a meeting in Reykjavik on 15 March, Foreign Ministers Össur Skarphéðinsson and Dr. Huigen Yang, Director of the Polar Research Institute of China, Shanghai, talked about the potential of opening of sea routes across the Arctic Ocean, which might cut the distance between ports of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans up to 40%. Iceland and China both see the Central Arctic Shipping Route as the optimal one to link the continents; a passage that would open a window of opportunity for an international transshipment hub in Iceland.
At the meeting Foreign Minister Skarphéðinsson said it was very important to Iceland that China share its opinion on the significance of the Central Arctic Shipping Route. He stressed that the Central Route remained the most practical option for Iceland, not only with regard to currents and ice thickness but also geographically, as the opening of the passage for navigation would not only affect the Icelandic economy, but also have geopolitical implications for Iceland as regards Europe, America and Asia.
According to Dr. Yang, the Central Arctic Shipping Route, from the Pacific to the North-Atlantic might already be open for navigation for up to four months a year by 2020 with the assistance of icebreakers. It would become an important commercial shipping route from China to Europe, estimated worth 700 billion USD annually or around 10% of Chinese export to Europe.
The Chinese research vessel, Xue Long that visited Iceland last summer, traversed the Central Arctic Shipping Route on her way back. A new Chinese research icebreaker, of Finnish design, is currently on the drawing board.
Dr. Yang and Foreign Minister Skarphéðinsson also discussed plans for the establishment of a joint Aurora research institute in Iceland, based on an agreement on Chinese-Icelandic cooperation on Arctic research, signed last year, during the visit of Mr. Wen Jiabao, Prime Minister of China.