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Japan has a concentrated interest in Arctic issues

About how Japan does not want to stay out of the global processes of developing the resources and opportunities of the Arctic region, using the acquired status of "observer" in the international Arctic Council, argues Alexander Kurmazov, the first secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Japan

In the Asia-Pacific region, the Arctic usually refers to the territories and spaces of the World Ocean located north of 60 ° N. w, including the Bering, Chukchi and other seas adjacent to the Arctic Ocean.

Japan has a concentrated interest in Arctic issues
In the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, which has recently begun to be considered more and more and taking into account the situation in the Arctic region, the Russian position collides with the interests of, first of all, the United States and Canada. These countries also belong to the Arctic coastal states and in this region have common sea borders with Russia. However, in recent years, non-Arctic countries - China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, etc. - have shown increasing interest in the Arctic. And this also has to be reckoned with.

Japan is not a subarctic state, but it does not want to stay away from the global processes of assessment, development and use of various resources and capabilities of the Arctic region, using for this the status of “observer” acquired by it in the international Arctic Council.

Japan's genuine interest in the problems of the Arctic and, first of all, in the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is evidenced by the creation in 2012 of the parliamentary League for the security of the NSR under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Abe S. Sluggish studies of the NSR have been conducted in Japan since 1995 after the collapse THE USSR. Their activation began after Japan's East Asian neighbors, China and the Republic of Korea, began to closely deal with this issue.

Concentrated interest in Arctic issues, including the possibilities of using the NSR, comes from non-governmental organizations as well. In particular, from the side of the Asia-Pacific Forum (APF). Large Japanese business is also showing practical interest in the problem of using the NSR.
Monitoring the situation around the Arctic issues in Japan shows that there are several fairly important topics that are clearly of interest to the Japanese government:
- the possibility of practical use of the Northern Sea Route (NSR);
- scientific research of the Arctic seas to deepen scientific knowledge in the field of oceanology, physics and chemistry of the waters of the Arctic seas, to obtain new scientific data on marine biological resources, as well as to predict long-term climatic changes;
- Acquisition of the status of "observer" at the Arctic Council by Japan and other countries of the Asia-Pacific region;
- expanding cooperation and, at the same time, competition between Russia and China and other Asian countries in the joint development of Arctic resources, primarily hydrocarbon deposits;
- Russia securing its interests in the Arctic by military and technical means;

The problem of the “northern territories” in the era of the NSR was not left unattended in Japan either.
Some Japanese observers also pay attention to the development of international standards and regulations for the protection of the vulnerable environment in the Arctic.

The Northern Sea Route

The first reports in Japan about the successful escort of a tanker with a cargo of liquefied gas along the Northern Sea Route, which was carried out by the Russian state corporation Gazprom, were published by the Japanese media three years ago. The final point of delivery was the Japanese port of Kita-Kyushu. The Norwegian tanker leased by Gazprom left the Norwegian port of Hammerfest on November 7, 2012 and arrived at its destination on December 5, 2012. In the polar seas of Russia, the pilotage of the tanker was provided by a nuclear icebreaker.

Gazprom is making plans to develop gas fields on the Yamal Peninsula in order to then use the NSR to transport gas to the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

After that, the Japanese public-private partnership began to show increased attention to the possibility of using the NSR, highlighting the following key points: reducing travel time and transportation costs; Hokkaido, with its ports, can become the front gate of this important transport artery; aggravation of the contradictions of the interested countries over the spaces and resources of the Arctic.

The first step was the actions of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, aimed at drawing attention to Japan from the countries of the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council was created by eight countries that have territories in the Arctic Circle in 1996. These countries include Russia, Finland, Denmark (Greenland), USA, Canada, Sweden, Iceland, Norway. France, Holland, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Poland, as well as five Asian states - Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, China, Singapore have the statute of observers in the council. In May 2013, with the support of Russia, Japan was endowed with observer status in the Arctic Council and "received support to strengthen its position in the Arctic."

In the same year, the Japanese government, on the basis of a parliamentary decision, for the first time included the topic of Arctic development in the Marine Master Plan. The Ministry of State Lands and Transport has received a separate budget to study economic and other prospects and benefits, as well as legal aspects of the use of the NSR. Due to the significant difference in the laws of different countries, which can regulate relations in connection with the use of the Arctic, many problems arise, the solution of which is not within the competence of business. Basically, only states can act as subjects of Arctic activities.

To study these issues, in Japan, two international symposia were held (in Tokyo and Sapporo) with the participation of Russian, American and Norwegian specialists on the problems of the Northern Sea Route. The fact that part of the work took place in Sapporo is not accidental. Japan seeks to secure its own special role in the operation of the NSR. It is about presenting Hokkaido to the world community as a gateway to Asia along the way. It is planned to make Tomakomai the home port of ships following the NSR. But already for this role the South Korean port of Busan began to claim, surpassing the Hokkaid harbor in scale and volume of cargo transportation. Although Tomakomai's geographic location is more attractive, the international rivalry is fierce.

Currently, Japan provides itself with the supply of energy raw materials from the Middle East, North American and southern from Australia. Only the northern direction, the NSR, remained undeveloped. The main direction is the Middle East, through the Suez Canal. Given the tense situation in the Middle East, diversification of sea routes for the delivery of hydrocarbon raw materials is becoming a very important task for Japan.
This task, it seems, will be solved in 2018, when the transportation of liquefied gas from the Yamal Peninsula to the Arctic coast in Siberia will begin on a regular basis. The line for the delivery of gas produced in this Siberian and Arctic region will be served by the largest Japanese sea carrier "MITSUI OSK Lines Ltd." Gas will be delivered both to Japan and other countries of Northeast Asia and to European countries. The annual volume of transportation of liquefied gas is projected at 3 million tons.

At the same time, Japanese analysts admit that there are problems that are difficult to eliminate, but they will affect the degree of efficiency of the NSR operation. These are, first of all, harsh climatic conditions, due to which the duration of navigation and the speed of escorting ships can change. In addition, the use of the icebreaker fleet for escorting transports significantly increases the cost of operating the NSR. Also, Japan is worried about the deserted coastline and the weak infrastructure of Russian ports in the Arctic Circle.

And finally, about the Ukrainian events, which also see an opportunity to influence the balance of power in Arctic politics. Cooling relations with Europe will turn Russia to face Asia. More Russian-made energy carriers will begin to flow to Asian countries. And here they pin their hopes on the NSR, in spite of all the revealed difficulties.

Scientific research of the Arctic seas

Scientific research of the Arctic seas to deepen scientific knowledge in the field of oceanology, physics and chemistry of the waters of the Arctic seas, as well as to obtain new scientific data on marine biological resources - this is exactly the direction in which Japan could - and is already trying to do so - to contribute practical contribution to the study and development of the Arctic. This country positions itself as the Asian state closest to the Arctic and should take advantage of this advantage. Therefore, it is necessary to promote not only the "Hokkaido map of the Asian gate", but also to conduct scientific research in the Arctic regions. In particular, in relation to the NSR problem, the most important issue is monitoring the distribution of ice. Currently, Japanese scientists use an international resource to study this issue - data from Russian surveys and research, as well as data from satellite observations of the United States.

At the same time, the Japanese government decided to create an unmanned underwater research vessel to study the conditions for the distribution of Arctic ice from the water column. The need for constant monitoring of the state of ice in the Arctic, a region still poorly studied, does not need comments. When navigating ships, surface observation instruments are clearly insufficient to ensure safe navigation in difficult ice conditions. Observations from the water column will provide a lot more information for the safety of navigation, including the thickness of the ice and the formation of underwater hummocks, as well as the salinity of the water, direction of currents and much more.

Studying the state of the Arctic ice is also important because changes in the ice cover, especially if they pass quickly, will undoubtedly affect changes in the climate and the state of ecosystems.
To fill the gaps in the system of Arctic knowledge, Japan conducted a comprehensive scientific survey in the northern part of the Bering Sea and in the part of the Chukchi Sea adjacent to the Bering Strait, using the Hokkaido University research vessel "Oseromaru". The research carried out can be regarded as a serious bid for Japan's recognition as a full-fledged member of the Arctic Club. Apparently, the Japanese government is counting on just such an assessment.
Even a brief listing of the points of the scientific work done shows the scale of the project: determining the speed and nature of currents, measuring water temperature, collecting plankton samples, collecting samples of ichthyofauna, observing seabirds and cetaceans, collecting samples to determine the content of trace elements in seawater and its acidity, and also some other observations and sampling.

The above works were carried out within the framework of the five-year GRENE program, formed to study climatic changes in the Arctic by the Ministry of Education and Science of Japan in 2011 until 2016. The program is funded from the state budget and has an annual subsidy of 600 billion yen. About 300 scientists from 35 research institutes and universities are participating in research under this program.

The main purpose of these works is called forecasting the upcoming changes in the state of the Arctic ecosystem as a result of the current climatic and oceanological changes. As a result of the melting of polar ice in the Chukchi Sea, an explosive increase in the biomass of plankton may occur, after which it cannot be ruled out that the inhabitants of the Bering Sea - pollock and even salmon - will appear in the Arctic seas.

Arctic research is also needed for long-term climate predictions. A decrease in the area of ​​the ice cover in the Barents Sea can lead to a shift of cyclonic activity to the north and activation and, most importantly, expansion of the Siberian anticyclone, which can affect the Japanese climate, making the winters on the islands colder.

It must be said that the future of Japanese Arctic research in the coming years may be a big question mark. The aforementioned vessel "Oseromaru" made its last voyage during the Arctic research and will be written off. The underwater drone is still in project status. And its practical use will not solve all problems.

Only the Ministry of Defense of Japan has ice-class scientific vessels. According to the law "On the Self-Defense Forces", this ministry can conduct scientific research only in Antarctica. In this regard, the concerned ministries of Japan (the Ministry of Science and Education, the Ministry of State Lands and Transport) have begun to consider the issue of building a new research vessel of an icebreaking class specifically for Arctic research. The construction of such a vessel will require funds in the amount of several hundred million dollars.

The vessel will be designed for international research and will take on board foreign scientists to carry out international programs. He will also conduct independent work in the Arctic Ocean. Both should underscore Japan's growing presence in the Arctic.

A certain part of the fish resources of the Bering Sea for the needs of the domestic market is obtained by Japan, fishing in the Russian part of the sea and purchasing fish raw materials from this region from Russia and the United States. Subsidiaries of Japanese pollock surimi companies operate in the Aleutian Islands. The distribution of its concentrations in the Bering Sea zone of the United States has changed greatly in recent years, the fishery has shifted towards the Russian zone by 400-500 km from coastal processing bases, which leads to a significant increase in additional costs for crossings and transportation of the catch.

Assuming, taking into account the above circumstances, that climatic and oceanological changes may lead to changes in the distribution and state of stocks of commercial objects, which this country is interested in obtaining, the Hokkaido University conducted research on the state of the ice cover in the Bering Sea, as well as in the southern part of the Arctic ocean. Such studies have not been carried out by Japan in these areas for 15 years. The new data made it possible to assess the direction of changes, including in the state of fish stocks, that occurred during this period.


Cooperation and competition of Russia with China and other Asian countries in the joint development of Arctic resources

In this section, we will try to summarize Japanese assessments of the inclusion of other Asian countries in the development of the Arctic.

China also seeks to play its own independent role in the development of the Arctic. The PRC is trying to establish contacts regarding the Arctic with the Northern European countries, in particular, with the Arctic Scientific Agency, which was created by Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland. An agreement was reached with this agency in December 2013 to establish a China-North European Arctic Science Center in Shanghai. The main areas of work of this center will be climate change in the Arctic Circle, the development of Arctic resources and Arctic sea routes.

He demonstrated his independent Arctic position in 2012 by successfully navigating a research vessel in cooperation with Iceland not through the coastal polar waters of Russia, but through higher latitudes, bypassing the NSR. The following year, 20 tons of commercial cargo was delivered from China to Europe across the Arctic Ocean. At the same time, it is planned that by 2020 up to 15% of cargo will be delivered from China to Europe by this route.

China calls Icelandic Reykjavik the main port of Northern Europe at the beginning of the Northern Sea Route. Therefore, China's relations with Iceland are strengthening more and more actively. However, China has not yet demonstrated its ambitions as a base port country in Asia at the end of the NSR. Although, as it is believed in Japan, such ports could be Dalian or Shanghai. In this regard, Chinese experts answer that "in the end, the ship owner and the cargo owner determine the base port for themselves, based on the cost of transportation and speed." And it's hard to disagree with this.

In Japan, it is believed that Russia's polar ambitions were hurt by this move. Commercial use of the NSR assumes the mandatory use (of course, paid) of Russian icebreakers, as well as fees for passage along this route.

Japanese experts put forward the following rationale for protecting Japanese economic interests. The NSR will most likely be open for shipping 5 months a year. The port of Tomakomai is located at such a distance, for example, from Murmansk, which large container ships can overcome in two weeks. That is, it is quite possible to carry out a roundtrip flight per month. South Korean or Chinese ports, and even Japanese ports further south, are significantly reducing the number of voyages. Therefore, the port of Tomakomai could become a transshipment point of the NSR at a point where northern conditions will no longer become a limitation of navigation. And the delivered goods can be transported from this port further - to the southern regions of Asia.

Hokkaido can play another supporting role in this matter. The ports of eastern Hokkaido, Kushiro and Nemuro, could act as ports of refuge in the event of severe storms.

Russia securing its interests in the Arctic by military and technical means. Japanese estimates
First of all, these are security issues. Moreover, the security of not only Russia in this area, but also other members of the "Arctic Club", as well as user countries, both the transport potential of the NSR and subsoil resources, and for certain areas and marine biological resources.

There is nothing unnatural in the fact that Japan closely links its plans to use the Arctic potential with security issues. Japanese researchers of Arctic problems distinguish two main components in this area - military and icebreaking, in other words - technical.

Japan immediately reacted to the speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 10, 2013 to representatives of the Ministry of Defense and the command staff of the Armed Forces, citing his speech in part concerning the need to use all possible means to ensure security and Russian state interests in the Arctic. The Japanese media also drew attention to the instructions of the Russian president to form specialized military units in the Arctic and speed up the equipment in the region of military bases.

In practical terms, this means, first of all, the construction of runways and equipped berths on the Frans Josef Land archipelago and on the New Siberian Islands in order to ensure uninterrupted supply of Arctic military units in order to permanently station military aviation and the Russian Navy here. In Japan, it is quite reasonable to believe that by these actions Russia is striving to strengthen the containment of the growing activity in the Arctic by the United States and China. It is even more difficult to disagree with such an impartial assessment of Russian actions: “Russia is striving to secure its leading rights to the development of the Arctic, which is rich in natural resources. Russia declares itself in the Arctic region as a new 'zone of greatest influence', the strategic importance of which is steadily increasing. "

Sufficient provision of the Arctic sea areas with an icebreaker fleet is no less important than the creation of military infrastructure. It is directly related to the guarantee of the safety of traffic flows.

Japan is carefully evaluating the Russian icebreaker fleet and plans for its improvement, noting the inevitable failure of existing icebreakers in the near future, the number of which in 2012 decreased from 7 to 6 units. The growth of freight traffic on the NSR is growing, and work on the development of the resources of the Arctic shelf is intensifying. Therefore, Russia cannot do without a powerful icebreaker fleet equipped with nuclear engines.

Currently, the flagship of the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet is the world's largest icebreaker - the nuclear-powered ship "50 Anniversary Victory ". Of the three planned nuclear icebreakers, one will be the largest in the world and will surpass the current leader of this fleet in terms of parameters. It will be able to punch a path through ice 4 meters thick.

Russian-Japanese territorial problem in the era of the NSR

The Japanese would not be themselves if, like everyone else, they took the ports of northern Europe as the starting point for the NSR. Therefore, they consider Asia and, in particular, Japan to be the beginning of the NSR. And at this very beginning there are the southern Kuriles, which in Japan are called "northern territories", and the Sea of ​​Okhotsk, the coastal state of which Japan also rightfully considers itself.

According to the professor of Tokai University Yamada Y., if the NSR really works, then the movement of ships through the Catherine Strait will become active (it will divide the Kunashir and Iturup islands of the South Kuril archipelago). Already through this passage, liquefied gas is transported from Sakhalin to Japan. Shipping in the area is becoming more and more active.

Sea areas, where it is necessary to maintain order and security on the part of Russia, is growing. Providing such conditions in this strait and other adjacent waters will be a big and difficult task for Russia, since, according to Japanese analysts, it does not have sufficient experience in such activities. Therefore, Japan in this situation should offer joint management of shipping in this sea area. By deepening bilateral cooperation in this area, it will be possible to advance in solving the territorial problem. This is an additional channel for the work of diplomats of the two countries in this direction.

In any case, understanding how new world transport flows will form is extremely important for Japan, which is entirely dependent on sea trade routes. Perhaps these changes in the nature of sea routes will help to look differently at the problem of the "northern territories", will create the basis for the emergence of new ideas for its solution. Japan is also not going to miss this chance. What new economic and logistic structure could emerge in the area? This issue is now being thoroughly studied by the Ministry of State Lands, Infrastructure and Transport of Japan.
The mentioned idea of ​​key transshipment ports in Hokkaido is also considered as one of the possible instruments for improving the general climate of relations between the two countries on an economic basis. True, the role of diplomats is being pushed aside to a certain extent. The first significant role is played by the advantage of reducing costs when transporting goods from other continents. In addition, trained Russian crews with extensive experience in navigating ships along the Northern Sea Route should play an important role. It is they who will ensure the delivery of a significant part of cargo to Asia via the NSR. True, the author of this idea is somewhat pessimistic about the manifestation of the Japanese government's interest in this issue as one of the potential directions for solving the territorial problem. But this path does not exclude from the arsenal of possibilities.


Unified environmental rules for harnessing the potential of the Arctic

In Japan, this issue is considered primarily from the point of view of concluding multilateral conventions that could establish universal rules for the use of areas and resources of the Arctic.

The legal regime of the Arctic is fundamentally different from the international legal regime of Antarctica, since universal multilateral treaties do not yet operate in the Arctic region, as is the case in Antarctica (Antarctic Treaty 1959). Therefore, the coastal states are pursuing their own, not coordinated line in the development of the Arctic. So, Russia independently installed a titanium national flag. Northern Europe announces the strengthening of military capabilities. China is making huge investments in the development of the region. The United States is pursuing freedom of navigation in the Arctic Ocean and has announced its intention to develop Arctic subsoil.

The lack of uniform rules of the game is a destabilizing factor in the Arctic. As one of the ways to solve this problem, Japan looks with great hope on the ability of the Arctic Council to urgently develop uniform rules for all with an emphasis on preserving the vulnerable Arctic natural environment, which would have a "deterrent".

It is quite obvious that the intensification of economic activity in the Arctic region will lead to further melting of ice or other harmful consequences as a result of changes in the environment and the state of ecosystems. Here Japan intends to say its weighty word and make a contribution that would be appreciated by the international community in the research field. At least 300 scientists, mainly from Hokkaido universities, are studying the nature of the Arctic and other Arctic problems in Japan. Their main goal is to develop methods for the careful use of the spatial and resource potential of the Arctic.

Summing up, let's say that interest in the Arctic topic in Japan has appeared recently almost suddenly, but it is very active. This can be seen from the development of well-defined plans for the use of the Arctic potential. This is also understandable from how jealous Japan is about the intensification of Arctic activities from neighboring Asian states, which also received observer status in the Arctic Council.

It is no coincidence that Japan not only makes statements about its Arctic interests, but also takes practical steps in those areas where it has a certain potential. In particular, in the field of scientific research.

This approach is most likely based on the economic security of the state, which can be supported by additional resources.

The range of Japan's Arctic interests is wide and diverse - from the Northern Sea Route to possible shifts in resolving the territorial issue with Russia. Rather fierce competition in the field of Arctic problems with Asian neighbors and other countries, as well as the unequal status of the Arctic Council members at the same time - these frictions can be used in Russian interests if the “Arctic puzzles” are put together in a picture favorable to us.
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