Arctic Review on Law and Politics, Vol 10, 2019, pp. 24-52.
We consider the advantages of Arctic sea routes in light of the political, bureaucratic and economic conditions surrounding shipping and shipbuilding in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Especially Japanese and Korean policy documents indicate soberness rather than optimism concerning Arctic sea routes, noting the remaining limitations. We find a clear tendency towards rising industry-level caution and restraint in all three countries, reflecting financial difficulties in several major companies as well as growing sensitivity to the economic and political risks associated with the Arctic routes. For all three countries, rising attention to Arctic developments as well as broader aspirations of playing visible roles in global governance mean that maritime transport projects involving this region are assessed with considerable interest, but we find nothing to indicate that they will be pursued unless the expected returns equal or exceed those of other options. Our examination of bilateral and multilateral Chinese, Japanese and Korean diplomatic activity concerning Arctic shipping exhibits a lower profile than indicated by earlier studies.