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2013年5月20日 (月)

北極海の開発 資源や航路で戦略的関与を

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 20, 2013
Japan should strategically engage in discussions on Arctic development
北極海の開発 資源や航路で戦略的関与を(5月19日付・読売社説)

As an increasing number of countries have clearly demonstrated their interest in the commercial and military potential of the Arctic Ocean, the government should unite relevant parties to draw up a national strategy on the region.

In Sweden, the Arctic Council comprising the United States, Russia and Nordic countries held a ministerial meeting last week for the first time in two years. The council has admitted six countries, including Japan, China and South Korea, as observers.

The Arctic Council is a forum for discussing and coordinating development of the Arctic and protecting its environment. Japan was granted observer status based on its internationally recognized contributions to environmental research and observation of the region. It is significant to be allowed to participate in the council’s meetings as an observer. This will serve Japan’s interests as a maritime nation.

Potential for new routes

Since the amount of sea ice has been decreasing every year due to global warming, many countries are focused on whether new regular routes connecting Asia and Europe can be opened in the Arctic Ocean.

In December, a tanker of a company related to the Russian government transported liquefied natural gas produced in Norway to Kitakyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture. This was the world’s first instance of LNG transportation via an Arctic route.

If such routes become regularly available, Japan will benefit from a reduced navigation distance to and from Europe, as Arctic channels are about 40 percent shorter than those using the Suez Canal.

However, ships will face a higher risk of grounding in the Arctic Ocean because it is shallow. Vessels will also have to depend mainly on Russian ports for rescue activities in case of contingencies.

On the pretext of preventing accidents, Russia is gaining commercial control of Arctic routes by, for example, obliging ships traveling on them to pay to have icebreakers lead their vessels.

Japan should carefully assess whether stable navigation can be ensured on the routes and if so, if it is worthwhile to use them.

Abundant energy resources such as natural gas and crude oil at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean also make the region very attractive.

Exploitation of such resources in the frigid sea will be an extremely large-scale state project. Countries have already begun bargaining for commercial use of the resources in the future. Japan, too, must enhance cooperation between the government and private sector to study the issue.

Role in national security

It is worrying, however, that Russia, which has been pursuing a policy of southward advancement for decades, may start utilizing the Arctic routes for national defense.

There is a possibility Moscow could reinforce its Pacific fleet, including nuclear submarines, and intensify its activities in Northeast Asia.

The United States also declared it vital to expand national security interests in the Arctic, and has unveiled a strategy defining development of the region as beneficial to the country. Additionally, Beijing is escalating activities to secure its own maritime interests.

Japan cannot afford to stand on the sidelines of this issue. If more countries begin frequently using Arctic routes, the Soya, Tsugaru and Tsushima straits will become important gateways to China, Russia and other countries.

Other nations’ actions regarding the Arctic Ocean should also be closely monitored in the interest of national security.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 19, 2013)
(2013年5月19日01時11分  読売新聞)


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