Conference: Asian Countries and the Arctic Future

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From 23 to 25 April 2014 scholars from China, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea as well as Canada, Finland, Norway and the USA gathered in Shanghai for the AsiArctic conference 'Asian Countries and the Arctic Future'. The conference was the first of its kind in China with all Arctic-relevant Asian countries represented. The event was hosted by AsiArctic partner Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), in cooperation with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI), and supported by China-Nordic Arctic Research Center (CNARC).


The conference covered a wide range of topics, among them Arctic governance. Noting that the Arctic of the past was different from the Arctic of today and that it would likely be different in the future as well, Professor Oran Young University of California, Santa Barbara adopted the concept of 'adaptive governance' and commented that a comprehensive legally binding treaty for the Arctic is not politically feasible. Rather, he recommended that the Arctic should be continued to be governed by a mosaic of mechanisms and arrangements. The Arctic Council is in this respect important, and the Asian states' observer status with the Council gained in May 2013 was subject to detailed discussion throughout the conference.

 

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Several sessions dealt with Arctic natural resources and possible transportation routes. Using the Northern Sea Route between Asia and Europe offers potential advantages in term of shorter sailing time and less fuel consumption. Arild Moe, Deputy-director of FNI argued, however, that recent voyage-statistics give little evidence of long-term commitment among shipping companies and cargo owners to use the route, due to many uncertainties such as size limitations and icebreaker-escort fees. The most promising traffic in the medium term is transport of LNG and oil from the Russian Arctic to markets in East Asia. As East Asian countries import the bulk of their oil and gas needs, Arctic energy is an attractive option that enhances energy security. Other resources, such as minerals and metals, and fish stocks were also discussed. Conference participants agreed that Asian countries' influence in the Arctic will increase with growing involvement in Arctic trade, shipping, energy, tourism and research.


In concluding the geopolitics of the Arctic and Asian countries' Arctic interests were discussed from a variety of angles and geographic regions. Most scholars agreed that peace and stability are likely to prevail in the Arctic even in the current tense geopolitical situation and conflict situation between Russia and Europe. Scholars from China, India, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea presented their respective angles on Arctic challenges, capitalizing on the unique presence of all relevant Asian Arctic stakeholders.


Feedback from participants has been positive, and the organizers consider the conference a success; an important milestone in the AsiArctic project. Conference contributions will be published and distributed in both Chinese and English.

 

More coverage of the conference can be found here.