Aki Tonami and Stewart Watters
Japan has a long history in polar research and this is acknowledged and encouraged by the Japanese government. However, the Japanese government has not created a unified, cross-ministerial task force operating within a unified strategy. This stems from the particular characteristics of Japanese government administration, where ministerial horizontal cooperation is rare, and where business and industry interests often play a critical role. Japanese business has not applied sufficient pressure for the government to create a central strategy as they have concluded that benefits from developing the NSR are too fragile to gain significant financial or logistics advantages, compared with existing routes. Japan views it as critical to engage in international research and development in cooperation with littoral states, as Japan does not have the legal title to access natural resources in the Arctic region. The views of the shipping industry may shift over time, and the Japanese government's attitude to energy security may shift due to the nuclear accident in 2011. From this perspective, the overarching ambition of Japan's Arctic policy is to plant seeds in order to secure interests in the future.
Aki Tonami is Researcher, and Stewart Watters is Research Fellow, at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.