The Chinese navy could approach the North Atlantic sea via the Arctic through a route which has been opened up by global heating. Admiral Tony Radakin, the First Sea Lord, warned that an “increasingly assertive” China can reach waters north of Britain by using the Northern Sea Route.
Speaking from the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier in Portsmouth on Thursday, the navy chief warned that climate change is becoming increasingly concerning.
He 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?”
The Northern Sea Route was once icebound and runs the length of Russia.
But due to climate change the passage has opened up and is accessible to ships during August, September and October without the need for icebreakers, according to the navy.
The route is said to be at least 10-12 sailing days faster than the route through Singapore and the Suez Canal.
Senior officials in the navy fear that China could team up with Russia to use the route for trade and military activities.
But the Royal Navy is one of the only navies to have a few aircraft carriers along with China and the US.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is set to be deployed into the Indo-Pacific next year.
It is not clear which route the ship will take but there are rumours it will be sent to the South China Sea.
The move, together with US and Australian warships, would affirm the right of freedom of navigation.
Last month, the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier operated military drills in preparation for the deployments.
Last weekend, the UK and US militaries took part in a joint exercise off the coast of Scotland.
Footage from the event shows UK and US fighter jets taking off from the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier.
It was called the last exercise before the carrier sets sail on deployment in early 2021.
Chris Parry, former rear admiral, told the Guardian: “The Northern Sea Route is a major component of China’s Belt and Road initiative in its quest to dominate trade in and around Eurasia.
“The risk is that China, in cooperation with Russia, will seek to exclude others from the route by restrictive practices.”