China’s 10,000-km fiber cable to reach the warming Arctic



China is in talks with Finland to help it build a 10,500-kilometer-long fiber optic cable across the Arctic Circle, a region where sea ice recedes at a faster pace due to climate change.

The underwater polar fiber link, which was also jointly proposed by Japan, Russia and Norway, aims to speed up data connections between Chinese and European financial centers as early as by 2020.

Chinese President Xi Jinping highlighted this project back in June last year, when the country was promoting trade and infrastructure development in the area as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

An action plan was also released around the same time. Titled “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative”, the strategy outlines how an economic passage could be formed via the Arctic Ocean and leading all the way up to Europe.

'Ice Silk Road'

Primorye international transport corridor suggested by Russia earlier aims to exploit and utilize maritime passageways between it and China, particularly the Northern Sea Route, or "Ice Silk Road."

The Arctic routes consist of two major components, with one called the Northeast Passage, or the Northern Sea Route by Russia, and another being Northwest Passage.

Submarine cables from Tokyo to London are planned for two distinct routes through the Arctic Ocean. Russia's Polarnet Project plans to lay the ROTACS cable through the Russian region of the Arctic (yellow line).

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and one of China’s three largest state-owned telecom giants, China Telecom, participated in a September meeting with Cinia Group—a Finnish information and communications technology firm owned by the government—held in Helsinki.

Cinia, which plays a “prominent role” in the Northeast Passage, is currently open for partner choices. However, no concrete plan has been confirmed yet, according to China Telecom in a recent statement.

Jukka-Pekka Joensuu, an executive adviser to Cinia, said the new cable would reduce the time delay from Asia to Europe by half, and that it would “provide a game changer in the industry.”

Xi’s state visit in April marked a Chinese president’s first trip to Finland since 1995, following then China is gradually enhancing its ties with the Northern European nation. A freight railway traveling between Finland’s Kouvola and China’s Xi’an has just recently launched.

“The tide has changed in Finland-China economic ties in these two years or so,” said Jari Sinkari, the Finnish consul-general to Hong Kong and Macau. “It used to be Finland investing more in the Chinese market, but now China’s become the more active one in the partnership.”

April 5, 2017: Chinese President Xi Jinping receives Finland’s national team training suits from Finnish nordic skiers in Helsinki.

Warming Arctic

Digital traffic between Europe and Asia is also estimated to increase by three times in the next five years, but the existing cables within the two continents are not enough to meet the demand as they either pass through the south, or the US and across the Pacific.

Despite being the shortest way to link Asia and Europe by water, no submarine fiber optic cables have ever been constructed on the Arctic seabed because of the obstacles posed by ice and icebergs, which hampered navigation to a great extent.

However, the Arctic route may become more feasible as a result of shrinking sea ice caused by global warming, even though its speed to melt is accelerating, Nicole Starosielski, a professor of media, pointed it out in her 2015 book “The Undersea Network.”

“It is more viable for telecommunication companies to propose these new and innovative routes than ever before,” she said.