China's biggest shipping company COSCO intends to launch regular services through the Arctic Ocean to Europe, a spokeswoman said Tuesday, as global warming makes the route viable and Beijing steps up its northern ambitions.
The state-owned industry giant has only twice sent a vessel through the "Northeast Passage", once in 2013 and again in a voyage completed this month, state media reported.
The European Union is China's biggest trading partner and sailing via the Arctic rather than the Indian Ocean would cut shipping times by as much as nine days, according to previous reports.
"There is an intention to open a regular line in the future and people are discussing it," a spokeswoman for group subsidiary COSCO Container Lines told AFP, without giving a specific timetable.
Her comments came after the official Xinhua news agency reported Monday that Chinese experts and officials had hailed the route as a "golden waterway" for trade.
COSCO released a statement saying the company would "continue to promote normalisation of operations for the Arctic's Northeast Passage".
Earlier this month COSCO's Yong Sheng merchant ship completed a 55-day round-trip voyage between China and Europe using the Northeast Passage, Xinhua said.
The same vessel carried out the firm's maiden journey on the route two years ago.
China does not border the Arctic and has no territorial claim to any of it, but joined the Arctic Council as an observer two years ago.
Observers say Beijing recognises the area's potential for scientific research and its strategic value.
"With global warming and accelerated ice melting in the Arctic, summer voyages in the Northeast and Northwest Passages in the Arctic have become possible, with commercial development and environmental protection issues attracting the constant attention of international society," COSCO said.