Much of the early exploration by Europeans of New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces was not based on a desire to settle and farm but was driven by a search for the “Northwest Passage.” This was the name given to a hypothetical sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific somewhere between North America and the North Pole that would allow direct sea transportation from Europe and Asia without having to navigate the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn around Africa and South America, respectively.

Early voyages up the St. Lawrence, Hudson and Delaware rivers were driven as much by the hope that explorers would find a Northwest Passage as they were by indigenous exploration. The Northwest Passage was never found. It existed on a map north of Canada, but that route is frozen most of the year and extremely dangerous because of ice and bad weather, even when it is not entirely frozen.

But that was then. Today, with some help from warmer temperatures, improved ice breakers and GPS navigation, vessels can now routinely make the passage. As reported in this article, China and Russia are now prepared to pick up where the 17th-century explorers left off.

Russia has its own Arctic Passage between its Northern territory and the Arctic Circle similar to Canada’s. China has been building a new maritime “Silk Road” around South Asia, Africa and the Middle East that would facilitate Chinese trade with countries in those regions (and, not coincidentally, enhance the operational flexibility of an expanding Chinese navy).

Russia has made strides in opening up its Arctic sailing routes through the East Siberian, Kara and Barents seas with connections to Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Baltic Sea and the ports of Europe. The combination of an Arctic passage and China’s Maritime Silk Road would encircle the entire Eurasian continent by sea. That opens up potential for wealth creation (and military dominance) that early explorers could only dream.

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