In 2013 the Kiruna Ministerial Meeting approved six new nations as observers in the Arctic Council. Of the six countries, five are located in Asia. For the first time in the history of the Arctic Council, countries outside of Europe and North America have become partners. Such a move illustrates how Arctic issues are now a global interest. It can also be assessed as an attempt to tackle the new challenges faced by the Arctic region through a more widespread cooperation.
On the other hand, the increased number of observers and participation from Asian countries carry another opportunity. Although the Asian observer states have varied interest in the Arctic, I think it is yet difficult to state that these countries have a profound understanding of the Arctic region. Moreover, even the Arctic states have differing views on the new observer states. It is one of the vital assignments that such a gap between the regions be narrowed.
Several of the Asian observer states in the Arctic Council have been conducting scientific research activities for quite a long period at the other pole – the Antarctic. These countries have been operating scientific stations, possess infrastructure such as icebreakers, and have the potential to contribute scientifically to the challenges faced in the Arctic. From shipping and operations to monitoring and observation technology, these countries already possess cutting-edge environmentally friendly technology which is currently needed in the Arctic region. How these capacities are utilized for a sustainable Arctic can shape the future of the region differently.
Korea is currently in the policy developing phase to solve actual problems through cooperation and to build trust in a shared vision for the Arctic region. As one of the efforts, the Korea Maritime Institute together with UArctic is launching a new type of mobility program, the Arctic Academy, that will reinforce exchange among students in the Arctic and non-Arctic regions. It will be a stepping stone for young generations of the two regions to understand and share their visions of the Arctic. The socio-economic and cultural diversity of the Arctic combined with the capacity of Korea will result in new levels of cooperation in the next generation that can lead to new friendships beyond the partnerships in the future.
[Read the article in the Shared Voices magazine here.]