Why the Arctic is of interest to Singapore

New trade routes as ice cap melts could hit Republic's shipping hub status: Tommy Koh

The icy Arctic may be a world apart from sunny Singapore, but the Republic has many "defensive and aggressive" interests in the region, said Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh yesterday.

Speaking at a seminar on Arctic developments at the National Museum of Singapore, Professor Tommy Koh pointed to how melting ice caps could open up new trade routes that may affect the Republic's shipping hub status.

"We are one of the largest ports in the world and development in the northern route could impact the status and prosperity of our port," said Prof Koh in his speech.

Melting polar caps resulting in a sea level rise could affect Singapore, he said, noting that it is an island-state. "So both our defensive and aggressive interests make us an interested stakeholder."

The Northern Sea Route is a new passageway for ships in the Arctic region. The opening up of the high Arctic all year round shaves 30 per cent off travel time via the conventional Suez Canal-Malacca Strait route, and has global shipping implications.

This year, a Russian gas tanker travelled the Northern Sea Route without an accompanying icebreaker - a first such trip.

Said Prof Koh: "If the Arctic Ocean were navigable around the year, and not just in the summer, this will shorten the sea route between North-east Asia and Rotterdam, for example."

The Arctic could provide commercial opportunities. "Two of our companies, including Keppel... have the technical capacity to build icebreakers... (Singapore is) good at infrastructure development, so when there are opportunities to build maritime structures in the Arctic Ocean, this is an opportunity for Singapore," he said.

At the event, Finland's Ambassador Paula Parviainen pointed out how Singapore is linked to the Arctic: "Even if the Arctic and the tropics are perceived as opposites, the disequilibrium in one of the two affects the other."

Singapore has been furthering its interest in the Arctic in various ways, including via exchanges between universities in the area of climate change. It has been a permanent observer in the Arctic Council since 2013, and is represented by Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Sam Tan.

The Arctic seminar was organised by the Embassy of Finland and the High Commission of Canada, with the support of Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2017, with the headline Why the Arctic is of interest to Singapore. Subscribe