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CWA # 248, 28 March 2020

The NIAS Arctic Series
The Non-Arctic powers: Interests of Japan and South Korea

  Harini Madhusudan

Japan and South Korea, have similar interests as that of China in the Arctic. As observers in the region, economic investments are the best option to expand their markets and also stay in the loop about the developments in the region.

 

Outside the Arctic Circle, much focus is on the Chinese interests in the Arctic. Japan and South Korea also have substantial interests in the region. What roles do Japan and South Korea play in the Arctic? And what is their interest in working with China?

Japan, South Korea, China and the Northern Sea Route
Using the Northern Sea Route is the primary motivation for the interests of China, Japan and South Korea. The Arctic may not be the highest priority in these countries, but the steps they seem to be taking certainly needs to be looked at. Along with China, India, Italy and Singapore, Japan and South Korea were granted observer status to the Arctic Council in May 2013.

In July 2013, South Korea announced its comprehensive Arctic policy and Japan, in October 2015, published its Arctic Policy. In December 2018, South Korea hosted the Arctic Circle Conference. Japan and South Korea also represent the Climate argument among their economic and strategic interests in their policies of the Arctic. 

Institutions and Investments of Japan in the Arctic

In terms of Arctic research, Japan has a National Institute of Polar Research, funded by multiple universities as an environmental initiative, which operates the Japanese station in Svalbard. Its research focuses on ecosystems, climate monitoring, evolution and atmospheric conditions, for the climate which Japan sees as a significant issue for its government. 

By 2019, Japanese industries had begun investing in the Arctic; Sodeco is part of the Sakhalin-1 production-sharing agreement with Rosneft; in June 2019, Japan's Mitsui and Mitsubishi, the largest general trading companies acquired 10 per cent stake in Novatek's Arctic LNG2 and also held stakes in Gazprom-led Sakhali-2 . Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp in December 2019, were the leading contenders for the 157 billion dollar Arctic project of Rosneft. Along with this, Jogmec works with Irkutsk Oil in East Siberia and has recently acquired a 10 per cent stake in a consortium with Mitsui in Arctic LNG 2, a gas liquefaction project in Russia's north.

South Korea's Arctic engagement: Beyond Science

Seoul's Arctic engagement began with scientific research, and in February 2013, Park Geun-hye government listed the development of the Northern Sea Route and the Arctic Ocean as the thirteenth most important task through the integration of the science and technology with the industry and culture. 

South Korea has sufficiently spelt out its interests in the Arctic. They conducted a commercial test voyage through the Northern Sea Route in the same year as they were given the observer status and the release of Arctic policy. In June 2018, a presidential committee on the Northern Economic Cooperation was established under Moon Jae In's leadership. At the Eastern Economic Forum in September 2017, an attempt was made to broaden the New Northern Policy with the 'Nine Bridges,' initiative where a number of areas of cooperation between Russia and South Korea were set up. 

South Korea laid a plan to increase the supplies of Russian LNG, beyond the 2005 agreement between KOGAS and Sakhalin Energy operating company of Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 gas development projects at the level of 1.5 million tonnes per year. Around the time, with an arbitration proceeding preceded by the discord between KOGAS and Australia's North West Shelf Gas, Russian LNG exporters would be a better option. Another plan would be the construction of the gas pipeline from Russia to South Korea through a territory in North Korea, implemented through the connection of trans-Korean gas-pipeline that would length up to 1100 km, whose endpoint would be the Sakhalin-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok gas transmission system. This would cost about 2.5 billion dollars, however, the sanction regime against North Korea stands as a political obstacle. 

Other significant 'bridges' would include the reconstruction of Trans-Korean Railway and try and connect it to the Trans-Siberian Railway, the modernization of ports in Zarubino, and Russia's Maritime provinces. Companies from South Korea are also known to be participating in the port terminal constructions at Slavyanka and Fokino. These are very important for the development of the International Transport Corridors, Primorye-1 and Primorye-2. Development of Arctic Shipping Route, shipbuilding and ship maintenance are some of the many industrial interests of South Korea in the Arctic. However, much of these are with Russia and little is known about Japan and South Korea's interest in the other Arctic countries. 

To conclude, Japan and South Korea, have similar interests as that of China in the Arctic. As observers in the region, economic investments are the best option to expand their markets and also stay in the loop about the developments in the region. In the broadest sense, one can observe that the promotion of scientific cooperation and sustainable research of Japan and South Korea are heavily coupled with their industrial and economic interests. It is unclear if the three East Asian Powers- China, Japan, and South Korea would be willing to work together, but the possibility of such cooperation would strengthen the East Asian presence and also address the priorities of the region.  

Harini Madhusudhan is a PhD Scholar at the Science Diplomacy Programme within the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS.

The NIAS Arctic Series

Rashmi Ramesh
The EU and the Arctic: The interest is not mutual. Why?
CWA #250, 28 March 2020

Rashmi Ramesh
Iceland, Denmark and Norway: Small is Big in the Arctic
CWA #249, 28 March 2020

Harini Madhusudan
The Non-Arctic powers: Assessing the interests of Japan and South Korea
CWA #248, 28 March 2020

Rashmi Ramesh
The Arctic Littorals: Iceland and Greenland
CWA #185, 3 November 2019

Harini Madhusudan
The Polar Silk Route: China's ambitious search in the Arctic
CWA #184, 3 November 2019

Parikshith Pradeep
The Scientific Imbalance: Is technology rightly being invested in the Arctic?
CWA #183, 3 November 2019

D. Suba Chandran
Why an Arctic foray is essential for India
CWA #177, 27 October 2019

Parikshith Pradeep
Russia's Polar Military Edge
CWA #176, 27 October 2019

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