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International relations

Japan joins race to develop Arctic resources

Foreign Minister Kono to attend policy assembly in Iceland for the first time

Russia and China are among the countries racing to exploit the Arctic region's rich gas and mineral reserves.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- With both Russia and China expanding their presence in the Arctic, Japan looks to ensure it also has a voice in the development of the resource-rich but environmentally sensitive region.

When Foreign Minister Taro Kono attends the Arctic Circle Assembly, set for Oct. 19 to 21 in Iceland, he is expected to announce that the government will encourage Japanese companies to invest in the region's energy resources.

Kono will become the first Japanese cabinet member to appear at the annual event in Reykjavik, which draws government officials, researchers and business representatives from various countries to discuss Arctic development and its consequences for the future. Topics have included sea ice melt and extreme weather, polar law and business cooperation.

Tokyo is looking at joint projects with Russia, such as construction of a transshipment terminal for liquefied natural gas on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Japan also wants to establish new shipping lanes in the Arctic seas connecting Asia and Europe.

Competition to strengthen footholds in the Arctic is intensifying, with Russia restricting foreign vessels from sailing through its exclusive economic zone and China announcing plans in January for a "Polar Silk Road" -- a sister project to its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Both countries are seen advancing military ambitions in the region as well.

Japan has taken a back seat on Arctic development. To avoid being locked out of the region, Tokyo is participating in the dialogue to create international rules governing resources there. Japan signed an agreement Wednesday with 10 countries and regions including the U.S., Russia and China to regulate fishing in the Arctic Ocean.

The assembly is hosted by Arctic Circle, a nonprofit organization formed in 2013 by then-Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. Past attendees include former French President Francois Hollande.

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