A major milestone was achieved in China’s long-term Arctic strategy last week when a Chinese icebreaker successfully navigated the Northwest Passage. This passage through Arctic waters is seen as one of the first steps in establishing a Chinese presence in the resource-rich region of the Arctic.

Snow Dragon, China’s lone icebreaker, became the first Chinese vessel to transit the major shipping routes through the Arctic, having previously completed the Transpolar Sea Route, the Northern Sea Route, and now the Northwest Passage.

China’s State Oceanic Administration said the mission helped “acquire navigation techniques and experience in the complicated and frozen environment of the Arctic … and obtain first-hand information on its shipping routes.”

Despite not being an official “arctic” nation like Russia and the United States, China has recognized the potential for vast untapped natural gas and oil resources in the region. It intends to partner with Russia to develop an “Ice Silk Road” to combine their efforts at harnessing the Arctic’s economic possibilities.