Royal Navy chief warns China could exploit future ARCTIC sea routes

Royal Navy chief warns ‘increasingly assertive’ China could exploit global warming and shrinking polar ice caps to allow its navy to use new sea routes opening up in the ARCTIC

  • Admiral Tony Radakin said the impact of climate change was of ‘concern’ 
  • Fears over new shipping route opening up in High North – on fringes of Russia 
  • First Sea Lord said China would take a faster trade route to the Atlantic if able

China could exploit new sea routes opened up in the Arctic as the ice caps melt, the head of the navy warned today.

First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin said the impact of climate change was of ‘concern’, as he warned of a ‘resurgent’ Russia and an ‘increasingly assertive’ China.

Speaking aboard HMS Prince of Wales, one of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers, he said China would undoubtedly take a faster trade route to the Atlantic if given the option.

There are fears that a new shipping route opening up in the High North – on the fringes of Russia – could lead to competing and competitive naval assets.

Setting out future threats, Admiral Radakin said: ‘Climate change is a concern for all of us, but it is opening up new maritime trade routes across the top of the world, halving the transit time between Europe and Asia. And we sit at the gateway to those routes.

‘But when China sails its growing navy into the Atlantic, which way will it come – the long route, or the short?

‘And these routes skirt the coast of that resurgent Russia. A Russia that is now more active in the Atlantic – our back yard – than it has been for over 30 years.’

First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin said the impact of climate change was of ‘concern’, as he warned of a ‘resurgent’ Russia and an ‘increasingly assertive’ China

There are fears that a new shipping route opening up in the High North – on the fringes of Russia – could lead to competing and competitive naval assets. Pictured is Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning

Currently the route – at the top of the Russian peninsula – is ice locked for nine months of the year, and even then ships probably need to use ice breakers. But as the earth warms up and the ice caps melt, the sea route is opening up more

He said the routes were part of an 8 trillion pound global maritime trade network, ‘the veins and arteries along which the lifeblood of the world’s economy flows’.

He stressed the importance of international laws around free trade, warning that ‘there are those that would threaten this concept’.

‘And this is why the Royal Navy is constantly on watch around the world. For everyone. Upholding those freedoms, protecting trade, enforcing those rules’, he said.

China is understood to have ice breakers which could enable the country to send ships through the northern sea route as the ice caps melt.

Currently the route – at the top of the Russian peninsula – is ice locked for nine months of the year, and even then ships probably need to use ice breakers.

But as the earth warms up and the ice caps melt, the sea route is opening up more.

As well as states, there are also concerns that as cruise ships use the route more and more, they could get into difficulty in what a navy source said was a ‘dangerous and environmentally challenged part of the world’.

Admiral Radakin also warned of undersea cables being threatened by adversaries, saying the only place still left to hide for Britain’s enemies was ‘under the sea’.

He said the Government was committed to developing new capabilities to protect those cables, such as using intelligence and surveillance assets.

Outlining the threat to undersea cables, he said that 97 per cent of the world’s data travels on the cables.

This could be commercial transactions to private emails, stock exchange trades, computer games, medical research or even television programmes.

‘Our adversaries are already threatening these. And this is why the government is committed to developing new capabilities to protect those cables, standing up to this threat on behalf of everyone’, he said.

Admiral Radakin also explained how Royal Marines would be ‘reinvented’ and were permanently deployed in both the Euro-Atlantic and East of Suez.

This would enable them to react at a moment’s notice, he said. As he spoke, Royal Marines showcased the latest kit they were trialling, including state-of-the-art drones.

The navy is also ‘ruthlessly driving down bureaucracy’, shrinking its headquarters by 40 per cent, leading to fewer Admirals but more people on the frontline.

Ships could be swapped in the future for drones, too, with the navy looking at plans to develop a fully autonomous mine-hunting capability.

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