Park-Arctic blueprint

SEOUL, May 20 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye ordered the government Monday to put together a blueprint for Arctic policies after South Korea won permanent observer status at the Arctic Council, a key decision-making group of countries with territory in the resources-rich region.

South Korea gained the coveted status at an Arctic Council meeting in Sweden on Wednesday, paving the way for the country to have a greater say in how one of the world's last untapped regions should be developed. Four other nations, including China and India, were also granted permanent observer status.

In a meeting with senior secretaries, Park hailed the status as a "big achievement."

Park said that about 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas is estimated to be buried in the Arctic Ocean and polar shipping routes, the prospects of which are increasing as ice melts, would reduce container shipping costs by 25 percent and cut travel time by about 10 days.

"In a situation where the strategic and economic values of the Arctic increase, we will be able to take direct part in the decision-making process," Park said. "We have to put spurs to efforts to expand Arctic development, such as opening Arctic routes."

Park said related government agencies should draw up a comprehensive blueprint for overall Arctic policies while making sure to give balanced consideration to environmental protection and sustainable development of the region as well as climate change.

The Arctic is one of the last-remaining regions in the world with large reserves of oil and gas as well as increasingly important rare earth materials. Though their recovery has been considered difficult, development possibilities have increased due to global warming.

Officials said Arctic routes, if realized, will cut shipping distances and time between Asia and Europe by about 40 percent from the existing roundabout routes via the Suez Canal, and will serve as a fresh impetus for Northeast Asian economies.

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