China awaits decision on Arctic Council status

China expressed hope Wednesday that the Arctic Council, a group of nations with strong ties to the frozen north, will soon accept its bid for permanent observer status.

The eight-country intergovernmental forum groups Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States, and is holding a ministerial meeting Wednesday in the northern Swedish city of Kiruna.

China is the world's second largest economy and has been seeking a foothold in the Arctic, which is believed to hold rich resource potential.

Over the past quarter-century, temperatures in the region have been rising roughly twice as fast as in the rest of the world.

As the ice melts, minerals as well as oil and gas once hidden under permafrost are becoming more accessible and northern seaways more navigable, but activists have warned of potential further damage to the environment from development.

"China values the scientific research and environmental protection (work) of the Arctic Council and has always supported the principles and purposes of the Arctic Council," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular briefing Wednesday.

"We hope the council can accept China as an official observer at an early date."

Chinese media reports have said the council is expected to decide on Beijing's bid at the meeting in Sweden. Japan, South Korea, Italy, Singapore, India and the European Union have also applied for observer status.

But in a report about the country's application the state-run China Daily newspaper on Monday quoted an unidentified Chinese official involved in the issue as saying they were "not very optimistic".

The newspaper added: "Because of the country's growing national wealth and global influence, each step taken by China is closely watched by the international community."

South Korea, which gained temporary observer status in 2008, has sent a foreign ministry delegation to the meeting in Sweden to lobby for its permanent observer status bid.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se has called his Canadian counterpart twice to win support.

The Arctic's sea ice melted at a record pace in 2012, the ninth hottest year on record, the World Meteorological Organisation said earlier this month.