Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt hands the gavel which symbolizes handing the chairmanship of the Arctic Council to Canada's Minister of the Arctic Council Leona Aglukkaq, at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting, in Kiruna, Sweden, on Wednesday. (Photo: Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

May 15, 2013 (TSR) – China, together with five other states, has been granted observer status in the Arctic Council on Wednesday. The new status boosts rising superpowers China, India and South Korea that are seeking to mine the region for its untapped energy and other natural resources.

China, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore were granted new Observer States status at the Eighth Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council convened in Kiruna, the northernmost city of Sweden.

The European Union also was tentatively granted observer status to the eight-state council but must first address several questions about its bid, including concerns about its ban on Canadian seal exports.

The eight states that are permanent members of the non-binding panel all touch the Arctic Circle, including the United States, through Alaska. Denmark is connected to the Arctic Circle through its relationship with Greenland, which is a semi-autonomous territory.

Officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves, and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.

Gao Feng, head of China’s delegation to the event, told Xinhua that the long-awaited observer status of China is a “right and wise” decision, and it would be constructive for future international cooperation on the Arctic issues.

“China will first get to know the Arctic better, and then it is able to join effectively international cooperation,” said Gao.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, the current chair of the Council, said the Arctic Council welcomed the six nations’ observer status.

The meeting also witnessed the signing of Kiruna Declearation, which recognized “the importance of maintaining peace, stability and constructive cooperation in the Arctic,” and “the importance of the sustainable use of resources, economic development and environmental protection.”

The Declaration also reiterated the urgent need for increased national and global actions to “mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

Approximately 230 people, including ministers, delegates from the eight Arctic states, representatives of indigenous peoples, scientists and observers, participated in this event, which marks the end of the two-year Swedish chairmanship and the beginning of the Canadian chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Canada’s minister to the council, Leona Aglukkaq, voiced mild but restrained discomfort with the new observers to the council, which she said was created “by northerners, for northerners, before the Arctic was of interest to the rest of the world”according to Associated Press.

The Arctic Council, founded about 20 years ago, includes eight Arctic countries, namely Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.


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