Korea granted upgraded status in Arctic Council

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Korea granted upgraded status in Arctic Council

Korea was granted permanent observer status to the Arctic Council along with five other countries including China and India yesterday.

Amid heated discussions, the eight members of the council - the United States, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden - reached the decision yesterday in Kiruna, Sweden, at their twice-a-year ministerial meeting, reflecting the growing relevance of the region.

Japan, Singapore and Italy were also granted permanent observer status yesterday, while a decision on the European Union was deferred due to a trade dispute.

These countries have sought economic opportunities in the region and view an observer status in the Arctic Council as a means to closer cooperation with the Arctic countries as well as better access to sustainable development in the Arctic region.

European countries like the United Kingdom and France already had observer status, but this marks the first time Asian countries gained that position.

Once a sleeper organization, the Arctic Council, created in 1996, has gained prominence over recent years as the region is presumed to be rich in natural resources, including untapped oil reserves, minerals and gas deposits.

Shin Dong-ik, head of multilateral and global affairs at Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “The eight member states of the Arctic Council granted official permanent observer status to Korea after reviewing its ability to enhance the interests of the Arctic Circle, possession of expertise and cooperation with the Arctic Council.”

Along with the economic opportunities presented in the region, the thawing of the ice caps in the region due to global warming opens the possibility of quicker shipping routes between Europe and Asia.

Observer status countries can watch but not speak at the main ministerial meetings of the council.

Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister and chair of the meeting said the council has finally “come of age” and that “it is mature and it is developing the self-confidence necessary to stimulate a global approach to the most urgent problems in the region.”

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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