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2014年9月 9日 (火)

北極海航路 日本も戦略的関与を強めたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan’s strategic involvement essential in utilizing Arctic Ocean shipping routes
北極海航路 日本も戦略的関与を強めたい

It is essential that Japan strengthen its strategic involvement in exploiting resources and using maritime routes in the Arctic Ocean, both of which have attracted keen interest around the globe.

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines has announced a plan for the major Japanese shipping company to transport liquefied natural gas via the Arctic Ocean starting in 2018. The company will build three icebreaker tankers specifically for the project and transport LNG from a production base in northern Russia to Japanese and European destinations.

LNG delivery to European countries will be made throughout the year, while the company will ship the gas to Japan and other Asian countries between June and November, when there is less sea ice.

Maritime routes along Russia’s coast have become easier to use as global warming has decreased the amount of sea ice.

The Arctic routes will be about 60 percent of those connecting Japan and European countries via the Suez Canal. Using the northern routes also reduce the risk of encountering pirates significantly.

When Arctic routes become operational, companies will be able to cut distribution costs and diversify their routes to procure resources.

The Arctic seabed is said to have rich reserves of oil, natural gas and other resources, but exploiting these resources requires thorough research and massive funding. For the time being, the government should concentrate on collecting information in cooperation with the private sector.

Environmental destruction has been reported in the Arctic Ocean. Global warming has increased acidification of the ocean, raising concerns of grave consequences for fish, shellfish and other marine life. It has been pointed out that environmental changes in the Arctic are causing some of the abnormal weather seen across the globe, but studies of this issue by countries concerned have progressed at a snail’s pace.

Monitoring acidification

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to develop a new system to monitor acidification in the Arctic year-round by using an unmanned underwater vehicle and other means. The ministry, which hopes to practically apply the system in the latter half of the 2010s, included ¥1.1 billion in its budgetary request for fiscal 2015 for related costs.

In line with Japan’s proposal, an international conference will be held in the Philippines next May to discuss how climate change is affecting the Arctic.

Contributions by Japan to the environmental field would certainly enhance its say in the international community, making it easier for the nation to use sea routes and exploit ocean resources.

In May last year, Japan was allowed to participate as an observer at a meeting of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum where the United States, Russia and other Arctic coastal nations discuss mainly marine development. But work done by the government since then has been lackluster.

China, on the other hand, is reinvigorating its activities in the Arctic by conducting research with icebreakers — apparently with an eye on securing its maritime interests. It is essential for Japan, too, to compile a comprehensive strategy regarding the use of the Arctic as early as possible and pursue its own national interests.

The schism between Japan, the United States and European nations on one side and Russia on the other is widening over the Ukrainian situation. But as Russia’s cooperation is a prerequisite to use the routes and exploit resources, the challenge is to sort out how to build a relationship of trust with Russia in the long run.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 8, 2014)Speech


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