Students onboard Japan's Shirase icebreaker during a general tour. Photo: Flickr/Cookie M.
Students onboard Japan’s Shirase icebreaker during a general tour. Photo: Flickr/Cookie M.

For interested readers, the peer-reviewed journal Eurasian Geography and Economics has just published my article, “North by Northeast: Toward an Asian-Arctic Region.” The article consists of research I completed for the dissertation for my MPhil in Polar Studies at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. In the article, I analyze the recent activities of China, South Korea, and Japan in the Arctic while also placing them in a historical context. I also examine their polar activities as part of the wider thrust of the East Asian countries into the maritime domain – whether in the Arctic, Pacific, or even elsewhere.

For a quick overview of what’s covered in the article, the sections are as follows:ege

  • The Arctic’s historical ties to global markets
  • Northern gateways and pivots to Asia
  • Bilateral ties between Asian and Arctic countries
  • Governance futures within the Asian-Arctic region
  • Possibilities for “mini-lateral” cooperation within the North Pacific
  • Toward relational Arctic governance

The abstract is:

“Though the Arctic Council accepted China, Japan, and South Korea as observers in May 2013, the multilateral organization’s permanent member states continue to treat them as non-Arctic outsiders due to their lack of territory north of the Arctic Circle. Applying geographic perspectives that consider the importance of territory and proximity on the one hand and relations and networks on the other, the author argues for a reconceptualization of the Arctic region extending beyond the Arctic Circle. After presenting an overview of the Arctic’s long-standing economic integration with disparate parts of the globe, the author examines the bilateral economic cooperation occurring between countries in Northeast Asia and the eight countries with territory north of the Arctic Circle. Special attention is paid to the ports, or gateways and pivots, linking resources in the North Pacific and wider Arctic region to destinations in Northeast Asia. Importantly, the shipping lanes of the Northern Sea Route and the North Pacific Great Circle Route are facilitating these commercial ties, especially as northern countries seek to export their liquefied natural gas to expanding markets in Northeast Asia. Finally, as political cooperation has not grown to match the intensifying economic cooperation between Northeast Asian and Arctic countries, the author considers present and future directions of regional governance within the Asian-Arctic region. Possibilities examined include more focused regional and mini-lateral structures along with mechanisms based less on territory and more on networks and relations, especially those concentrated in the North Pacific – Northeast Asia’s maritime entryway to the Arctic.”

In more detail, the article investigates the economics and politics of the emerging Asian-Arctic region. This is an area characterized by a growing amount of energy shipment, especially the transport of LNG from Arctic projects to the receiving terminals of East Asia. A lot of people talk about the “European Arctic (a search on Google turns up 89,700 results), which centers on the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Yet the “Asian Arctic” is not mentioned nearly as much (only 17,700 hits). This is a region centered on the North Pacific and the Arctic Ocean,which China, South Korea, and Japan can easily reach via the Bering Strait. Cities such as Dalian, Busan, and Vladivostok are all nodes in this increasingly interconnected region. At the same time, as much of the economic development of the Arctic in recent years has taken place at sea, the activities and investment of Asian countries can be felt in the Atlantic in cities like Reykjavik. A few paragraphs are thus devoted to considering Iceland’s status as a potential foothold for China to enhance its Arctic presence.

Returning to the Pacific, there are strong trade links to the Arctic countries of Canada and the U.S. via the North Pacific Great Circle Route (NPGCR), which cuts across the ocean from East Asia, hitting sub-Arctic ports such as Dutch Harbor, Alaska en route to Vancouver and Seattle. The NPGCR is still a more important shipping lane for East Asia than the Northern Sea Route, and LNG production is booming in Canada and the U.S. Hence, it’s helpful to think of East Asia’s interests in a broader range of northern resources and trade opportunities rather than just the strictly-defined Arctic region itself.

Given the increasing economic ties between Asian and Arctic countries, towards the end of the paper, potential options are considered for managing and governing the evolving Asian-Arctic space, trying to think beyond the confines of the Arctic Council. As I explain,

“Enhanced region-building measures centered on the North Pacific combined with a more expansive conception of the Arctic’s extent that recognizes the region’s deepening relations with traditionally non-Arctic countries could foster more effective governance within a space that the eight Arctic states and the Northeast Asian countries on their proverbial doorstep increasingly use.”

Access to the article is firewalled, so if you are unable to read it, please contact me at the bottom of this page for a copy.

I have one additional article forthcoming in the journal Strategic Analysis, which will focus specifically on South Korea’s activities in the Arctic. The issue will be a special edition that includes articles on Asia and the Arctic presented at the “Geopolitics of the Arctic” conference hosted by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, India in September 2013. This paper, like my latest publication, will cover topics that I often discuss on this blog. Hence, these articles can be seen as more extended research into these subjects as I attempt to think through the issues a little bit more and tie them into theory.

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New article on Asia & the Arctic in Eurasian Geography and Economics

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