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5 Asian countries get permanent observer status in Arctic Council

Publication Date : 16-05-2013


Singapore has been granted permanent observer status in the Arctic Council, giving it a platform to participate in a body that shapes future policies in the icy northern region.

Four other Asian countries - China, India, Japan and South Korea - were also admitted as observers yesterday to the council, along with Italy.

Reacting to the news of Singapore's new status, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement: "I would like to thank the Arctic Council states for admitting Singapore as an observer.

"Singapore is not situated in the Arctic, but developments there - whether the melting of the ice cap or opening of new sea routes - will have important implications for Singapore as a low- lying island and international seaport," he said. "We look forward to contributing to the work of the Arctic Council."

The council, formed in 1996, groups the eight Arctic nations - the United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Observer status gives countries the right to listen in on meetings and propose and finance policies.

The body addresses issues faced by Arctic governments and inhabitants of the region. It is gaining clout as sea ice thaws in the face of global warming to open up new trade routes and intensify competition for oil and gas - estimated at 15 per cent and 30 per cent respectively of undiscovered reserves.

The announcement was made at the Eighth Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council held in Sweden's northernmost city of Kiruna yesterday and is seen as a victory for Singapore which has been lobbying for the place for 11/2 years.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) noted in a statement yesterday that Singapore submitted its application for observer status in December 2011. Singapore's special envoy for Arctic Affairs Kemal Siddique is also in Sweden.

The MFA noted that the work of the Arctic Council includes issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic region. The council also disseminates information, encourages education, and promotes interest in the Arctic.

China has been active in the polar region, becoming one of the biggest mining investors in Greenland and agreeing to a free trade deal with Iceland, Reuters reported.

The council yesterday also ruled that the Europe Union could observe meetings until a final decision on its status was taken. EU members France, Germany, Spain and Britain have observer status.

Diplomats said Canada and other Arctic states objected to an EU ban on imported seal products. Indigenous groups say they depend on the seal trade, Reuters said.

Russia has long been sceptical of letting in the EU as an observer, arguing it has representation through its members Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told the meeting: "Despite the varied interests we have heard today from the permanent participants, there is nothing that should unite us quite like our concern for both the promise and challenges of the northernmost reaches of the Earth."


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