Ocean Jigsaw Puzzle Piece Series: Thoughts on the “Workshop on Arctic Governance in Tokyo" – Expectations for Japan regarding Arctic Issues
This blog was originally uploaded in Japanese
to OPRI's blog on March 12, 2018.
The Ocean Policy Research Institute of the Sasakawa
Peace Foundation (OPRI-SPF), with co-organizers
The Nippon Foundation and the National Graduate
Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), hosted the
“Workshop on Arctic Governance in Tokyo
2018” for two days on February 8 and 9, 2018.
The purpose of the workshop was to invite experts
on Arctic issues from overseas to discuss what
Asian countries, including Japan, can do for the
Arctic region from their diverse perspectives.
It was the second workshop following the first held
last year, and had many prominent individuals in
attendance. One of the reasons behind this would
be that the world is expecting Japan to do more
on Arctic issues.
The key person among the invited experts was H.E.
Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former President of Iceland.
He is currently the chairman of the Arctic Circle, an
international conference considered to be the Arctic
version of the Davos Forum. It is no exaggeration to
say that he is the most influential person in the
world when it comes to Arctic issues. I participated
in the Arctic Circle for the first time when it was held
in Iceland in October of last year, and I was
fortunate to be able to meet Mr. Grímsson in person.
At that time, he said that Japan has not stood out
in the Arctic Circle and insisted that it should become
as involved as the other Asian countries. This does
not mean that there were not many Japanese
people participating in the assembly, but he might
have felt that Japan had not stood out because
there were not many sessions led by Japanese
speakers as compared to those from other Asian
countries, such as China and Korea. In particular,
all eyes of the world have been on the connection
between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the
Arctic these days. News about China has thus
been in the spotlight, which might have given
him such an impression about Japan.
H.E. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former President of
Iceland, gives a speech at the “Workshop on
Arctic Governance in Tokyo 2018”
Iceland, gives a speech at the “Workshop on
Arctic Governance in Tokyo 2018”
Arctic Circle brochure (Front page)
Therefore, I told him that our institute was holding
an international workshop on Arctic governance in
February in Tokyo and suggested that he come to
Japan to participate in the workshop and have an
opportunity to discuss issues directly with Japanese
officials and experts. He immediately said yes.
After Mr. Grímsson’s participation became highly
likely, a number of prominent people from other
countries began to show interest, making the
workshop very successful as a result.
Regrettably, the workshop was a closed meeting for
participants only, so I cannot mention in detail what
was discussed. However, I would like to write about
what the Arctic countries think about Japan being
involved in Arctic issues.
In summary, all experts from the Arctic countries
believe that the stability of the Arctic region is the
most important issue. The Arctic remaining peaceful
and stable is important not only for the Arctic
countries but also for other countries.
However, the viewpoints differ depending on the
country. For Japanese people, the Arctic is a
far-away place. It is like the garden of someone who
lives in a different country. Therefore, we tend to
have the viewpoint of bystanders.
However, if we see the issue from the viewpoint of
the Arctic countries, not just the large ones but
even the small ones, we realize that the role of
Japan has a different significance to them.
Unlike Antarctica, there are many countries in the
Arctic region, and the relationship among these
countries largely affects the stability of the region.
During the Cold War, the power of the United States
and Russia --two superpowers-- and the ice-covered
ocean prevented access to other countries, and this
played a major role in keeping the region stable for
a long time. When the Cold War ended, the main
source of stability in the region changed to the
governance system among the eight countries of
the Arctic region, namely the Arctic Council.
In addition, as the amount of sea ice is reduced due
to global warming, the Arctic has become an
ordinary ocean that anyone can access.
This evoked interest from other countries,
including Asian countries.
Today, it is generally understood that the Arctic is
governed in accordance with international law, such
as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea (UNCLOS). However, there seems to be a
difference in the understanding of regional stability
among the eight countries, depending on their
standpoints. Officials and experts from the eight
countries participated in the workshop, so we were
able to hear their opinions from their individual
standpoints. Of course their opinions included not
just opinions which represent their country but also
their own personal opinions. However, in general,
all of the countries think that it is important for the
United States and Russia to maintain a constructive
and cooperative relationship.
On the other hand, it was pointed out that the
balance of the two superpowers regarding the Arctic
has been changing. Some thought otherwise, so
they were unable to agree; but various opinions
were exchanged on how to respond to the change
and how to include Asian countries. Speaking about
Asia, considerable attention was given to the idea of
the “Polar Silk Road” as part of China’s Belt and Road
Initiative, though there was both enthusiasm and
skepticism for the idea among the participants.
Open session at the workshop
During the workshop, I felt that three types of
balance were important when thinking about the
stability of the region: (1) balance within the Arctic
region (2) balance between the Arctic region and
Asian countries, and (3) balance among Asian
countries. I will not discuss the evaluation of the
Arctic Council, the current governing system, but
there are both small and large countries among the
eight countries that comprise the Council.
Some are close to the Arctic Ocean, and others
are not. So, the condition of each country varies,
and their viewpoints toward Arctic stability are
different. Some insist that Arctic governance should
be decided by the countries of the region, and some
insist that they should let other countries be involved
if a change is likely in the balance of the relationship
between the United States and Russia. Some think
that if a country becomes too prominent among the
countries which regional authorities have allowed to
be involved, they should let other countries from
other areas be involved in order to neutralize that
power. Also, there was a suggestion to utilize
private frameworks more often. Regardless, it is
clear that Asian countries’ involvement has already
become a factor that will have a large impact on
In Japan, a new Basic Plan on Ocean Policy will be
established shortly, and I understand an independent
article on Arctic issues has recently been formulated.
When Japan makes detailed plans on how to become
involved with Arctic issues, it is important to consider
which of the above-mentioned three factors applies
to each of the plans and check the plans again by
focusing on the viewpoint of each country.
It is important not to consider the Arctic countries as
one, but to decide which country needs which kind of
cooperation. We need to have an overall picture
while maintaining a relationship with each country.
Japan needs to become involved in order to maintain
a balance since the presence of Asia has increased in
the Arctic. I want to emphasize again that we need
to firmly understand what the countries expect us
While listening to the discussions, I was thinking
about why Mr. Grímsson wanted Japan to become
more involved and why he decided to come all the
way to Japan. Considering the situation that Iceland
is currently in, I now have a better understanding of
Ocean Policy Planning and Management Department