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Korea, Norway to cooperate for Arctic exploration

Korea and Norway agreed Wednesday to boost cooperation for Arctic exploration programs as Seoul looks to tap the region’s growing scientific and business opportunities.

Shin Maeng-ho, chief of legal affairs at the Foreign Ministry, and Karsten Klepsvik, the Nordic country’s ambassador to the Arctic Council, discussed Korea’s application to become a permanent observer to the eight-member Arctic Council, joint research projects and related policies, the ministry said.

The bilateral meeting, the first of its kind, comes as a rising number of countries step up their forays into the Arctic. They are scrambling to grab a stake in a vast treasure trove of natural resources as global warming accelerates the melting of ice sheets, which will open up shipping routes across the mineral-rich ocean.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Arctic is estimated to hold about 30 percent and 13 percent of the world’s untapped natural gas and oil reserves, respectively.

Founded in 1996, the Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum designed to bolster collaboration on issues such as environmental conservation, sustainable resources development and the protection of native tribes and their traditions. Its seven other members are the U.S., Canada, Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

Korea became an “ad hoc” observer to the council in 2008, alongside the European Union, China, Italy and Japan. Their applications for permanent status have previously been rebuffed as shipping lanes emerge as a major geopolitical topic. The final approval decision will be made at the council’s ministerial meeting next year.

Korea has been expanding its research projects in the region since the 2002 launch of the Arctic Dasan Station on a Norwegian island. In 2004, it spun off the Korea Polar Research Institute from the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute. Since 2010, it has been operating an icebreaker, called ARAON.

While carrying out environment and climate studies with international teams, the country pins high hopes on future sea routes that may benefit its energy, shipbuilding and logistics industries.

“Recent competition and conflicts between world powers surrounding Arctic resources show combination aspects of energy and geopolitics,” Kim Youn-gyoo, an energy and geopolitics expert at Hanyang University in Seoul, said in a recent report.

“That will become a crucial axis of Korea’s energy and resources cooperation diplomacy in the mid- and long-term.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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