Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 08:27 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 08:27 | SYDNEY

Breaking ice: Asia drifts north


Malcolm Cook

5 March 2010 12:16

Successive Australian governments have taken comfort that global economic and strategic power is shifting to Asia and hence closer to Australia. (At times, they have also feared this shift – ie. the 2009 Defence White Paper.)

Over the past few months, though, I have been troubled by the idea that, while power is shifting to Asia, within Asia it is shifting away from Australia both geographically (to the north and west of the Asian landmass) and diplomatically, as our traditional partners in Asia (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia) lose relative power to Asian states we have weaker strategic ties with, such as China, India, Russia and Iran.

Anthony Bubalo and I have a piece in the next issue of The American Interest looking at how the idea of Asia is moving away from the traditional Australian view, and last Wednesday I discussed this issue at the Lowy Institute.

Adding to this theme, potentially big things are happening in the Arctic. A recent report by SIPRI's China research team looks at the PRC’s growing interest in the Northeast trade passage. Last summer, two German cargo ships made the first voyage through this passage that links Northeast Asia to Europe, while the Russians are planning to send its first shipment of oil through the Arctic to Japan this summer.

Russia has the world's biggest fleet of ice breakers and sees its vast Arctic territories as a new economic asset. The PRC is also investing more in ice breakers in the hope that the Northeast Passage may become a real passage for trade between Asia and Europe, one that is closer and geo-strategically less complicated than Asia's traditional maritime routes, which are closer to Australia.

Photo by Flickr user MarcelGermain, used under a Creative Commons license.