Asian push for Arctic power

Asian push for Arctic power

Asian push for Arctic power

Updated 20 December 2012, 18:57 AEST

The push by Asian nations to have a greater influence on Arctic affairs is driven by economic motives, observers say.

China, Japan and South Korea are pushing for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council, the key body influencing Arctic affairs.

The council, established in 1996, has mainly been concerned with coordinating the protection of the environment and the rights of indigenous peoples.

But the regional group has become more political as melting ice opens the prospect of new trade routes and oil and gas exploration.

The Arctic Council is made up of eight permanent members: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, the United States, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden.

The Lowy Institute's East Asia director, Linda Jakobson, said Asian powers were driven by economic motives.

"As the arctic melts, they see a whole new shipping route network. All three - China, Japan, and South Korea - are very dependent on foreign trade," Ms Jakobson told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program.

Ms Jakobson said the route from Shanghai to Hamburg would become about 6 miles (9.6km) shorter using the proposed northern sea route.

She said there was also potential for mining exploration and new fishing grounds.

"There is no technology to go deep enough through very harsh and cold conditions but they say within five to 10 years, the Norwegians for example will have that technology.

"And if we look 20 years down the road, I think there will be more active exploration for resources."