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SEOUL, December 10. /ITAR-TASS/. South Korea’s government at its meeting chaired by President Park Geun-hye has approved the plan for the expansion of South Korean presence in the Arctic by means of taking part in international programs, the country’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries reported on Tuesday.
Key steps include taking part in eight projects aimed at preserving the polar region and 10 other research and development undertakings on climate change and other global issues, according to the ministry, Yonhap news agency reported.
“Under the belief that the Arctic needs to be protected before it is developed for economic gains, the country will faithfully fulfill all its responsibilities as an observer on the Arctic Council, including scientific research activities that are aimed at protecting the environment and support for the native people of the Arctic,” the ministry said in a press release.
The measures, approved at a Cabinet meeting held earlier in the day, are follow-ups to what were previously announced in July, two months after the country joined the Arctic Council, which currently consists of eight members with claimed territories in the Arctic and 32 observers, including 11 non-governmental organisations.
The ministry said the government will seek to legislate laws enabling initiation of 31 projects in total, including 10 business development programs, by 2017.
The ministry estimates that the Arctic holds up to 13% of the world's oil deposits, along with 30% of natural gas. In addition, the government will begin reviewing whether to build the country's second icebreaker to add to its first-ever icebreaker Araon commissioned in 2010. South Korea’s ambitious plan comes as the use of shipping routes through the Arctic is growing fast. Last year, 46 shipments carrying 1.25 million tonnes of cargo passed through the North Pole region, up 35% in shipments and 53% in tonnage from a year earlier, according to the ministry.
Using an Arctic route can cut the travel distance between South Korea and northern Europe by 7,000 kilometers and its duration by up to 15 days from the 22,000-kilometer journey that takes up to 40 days when using the conventional shipping route through the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.
“It is important for South Korea to become recognized as a country that shares the world's responsibility for the present and future of the Arctic, as the area is more or less controlled by adjacent states,” the ministry emphasized.