With a population of 334,000 – just one sixty-fourth that of Beijing where its first embassy in Asia is located – Iceland has once again caught the attention of Chinese media outlets after the latter laid out its Arctic White Paper in January, with both sides agreeing to deepen bilateral cooperation on Arctic issues.
“We welcome the interest China is showing [to the Arctic] because we feel that the resources and intelligence China have will be helpful for us, which could also develop future cooperation possibilities for shipping, logistics,” Gunnar Snorri Gunnarsson, the Icelandic ambassador who just started his second tenure in China, told People’s Daily Online.
As the world’s northernmost capital and a founding member of the Arctic Council, Iceland’s geopolitical position and their sustainability are strongly favored by China’s new Arctic policy, which Gunnarsson believes will serve as an excellent basis for building better Sino-Icelandic Arctic cooperation.
“Now there is already a very high-level cooperation between China and Iceland, but I see even more potentials,” said Gunnarsson.
MUTUAL COOPERATION IN GREEN ENERGY
As a country that boasts sustainable development, almost 100 percent of the electricity consumed in Iceland comes from renewable energy, while 9 out of every 10 houses are heated with geothermal energy. Iceland’s experience in renewable energy is in accordance with China’s newest Arctic policy, which calls for further exploration of non-living natural resources in the icy region.
“The Arctic region boasts an abundance of geothermal, wind, and other clean energy resources. China will work with the Arctic States to strengthen clean energy cooperation, increase exchange in respect of technology, personnel and experience in this field,” read the Arctic White Paper.
“There is a very interesting prospect in our geothermal energy [cooperation]. We have cooperation between Arctic Green Energy and China’s Sinopec on exploiting geothermal resources in more than 20 regions in China,” said Gunnarsson.
This pilot project, using Icelandic know-how in China, was launched in Xianyang City, Shaanxi Province, in 2006. Though the original plan was for heat and electricity for 1-million-square-meters of living space, the overall residential area under geothermal power has reportedly exceeded 30 million square meters, and will reach 100 million in 2020, making Xianyang the most ecological city in China, according to The Diplomat.
“I find it quite interesting that we started out this project in Xianyang, close to Xi’an, so this [project] also interacts with the Silk Road,” added Gunnarsson.
The successful geothermal cooperation has been hailed by many experts for its cleanness and efficiency, who believe that further research and cooperation in the Arctic region may even provide a solution for climate change and global warming.
Meanwhile, China’s achievements in electric vehicles have also drawn attention from Iceland’s public, with the country’s public bus authority Strætó bs purchasing nine electric-powered buses from China in July 2017.
“Though we are good at green energy technologies, one thing we have to get better is logistics and transportation, which could be done by importing more electric vehicles and we have already now ordered many electric buses from China,” said Gunnarsson.
As the world’s largest market for new-energy vehicles, infrastructure related to electric vehicles has also been developing swiftly in China. The number of public charging points in China for new energy vehicles increased by 51 percent in 2017 to 214,000, more than anywhere else in the world, becoming a new name card for China, according to Xinhua News Agency.
“My personal ambition would be when I return home from China, I want to bring a Chinese electric vehicle for my personal use,” noted Gunnarsson.
NAVIGATION OF ARCTIC PASSAGES
China’s other interest in Arctic development can be associated with the utilization of Arctic passages, with the Arctic White Paper indicating that China will participate in the development of Arctic shipping routes which are composed of the Northeast Passage, Northwest Passage, and the Central Passage.
Due to global warming, more sea routes in the Arctic have opened up, becoming important transport routes for international trade. China plans to build a “Polar Silk Road” by developing the Arctic shipping routes, with its research vessel Xue Long conducting several cruises through the Arctic passages to test the possibility of normalizing the new routes.
According to Xinhua News Agency, 297 vessels passed through the Northeast Passage in 2016, a 35 percent increase compared to the previous year. Experts predict that due to global warming, there will be more vessels using this new route for travel between China and Russia and between China and Europe.
Iceland has also noticed the importance of the new sea routes, as lower costs and shorter distances may also benefit the Arctic coastal country.
“We are honored that Xue Long’s first stop during its long journey was in Iceland. We see the potential that it shortens the sea routes and year by year it is getting easier for ships,” said Gunnarsson. “For a longer and longer period of the year you don’t need an icebreaker to sail.”
According to Gunnarsson, Chinese and Icelandic companies have been conducting research on building stronger boats that can withstand the rigid environment in the Arctic, and so far, they have made some remarkable achievements.
“I think we may have to wait for ten years or fifteen years [to see actual progress], but ten years pass in a blink. Before we know it, we will be there,” he added.