President Lee's natural resource diplomacy

President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday he hopes South Korea and Norway will work closely together to break open Arctic sea routes, saying such new shipping lanes will significantly boost economic exchanges between Asia and Europe.

Establishing new shipping routes over the Arctic, which are opening as ice continues to melt, is a key agenda item for Lee's trip to Norway. Officials said Arctic lanes will cut travel distances by about 40 percent from the existing roundabout routes, and will serve as a fresh impetus for Northeast Asian economies.

"It takes about 30 days to go from South Korea to Europe by ship, but if Arctic routes are created, I think travel time will be halved," Lee said during a roundtable discussion with business leaders of the two countries.

"If that happens, economic exchanges between Europe and Asia will become very brisk. In particular, if Norway cooperates with us, Asian routes will be established, which will be very good for its future," he said.

Lee arrived in Oslo on Monday, and his summit with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, set for Wednesday, is also expected to include discussions on Arctic routes, along with resource development and green growth.

Norway is South Korea's biggest trading partner in northern Europe.

Earlier Tuesday, Lee delivered a peace speech at the University of Oslo, where he indirectly urged Japan to learn from Europe and resolve grievances over its colonial rule of Korea, including the issue of Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women for its troops.

Lee also met with Marit Nybakk, deputy parliamentary speaker, and Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide, foreign affairs and defense committee chairwoman, asking them for cooperation in boosting friendship between the two countries and parliamentary exchanges.

The parliamentary leaders noted that economic and trade ties as well as high-level exchanges between the two sides have steadily risen and expressed hope that substantial cooperation will expand to such areas as ocean resource development and Arctic-related cooperation, the presidential office said.

The sides also agreed to work closely on climate change and green growth, and the Norwegian side reaffirmed the country's support for Seoul's efforts to promote peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff, the office said.

Lee then met with Crown Prince Haakon and thanked him for visiting South Korea to attend the Yeosu World Expo. Both sides expressed hope that increasing high-level exchanges between the two countries will further strengthen their traditional friendship, the office said.

Later Tuesday, Lee held video conference calls with South Korean scientists at the country's research bases in Antarctica, the Arctic and aboard an icebreaker conducting research in polar areas, commending their hard work in extreme conditions.

Korea established the Sejong Science Base for research of Antarctica in 1988, the Dasan Science Base for research of the Arctic in 2002, and launched the 7,487-ton icebreaker Araon. The Dasan base is in Ny-Alesund, Svalbard Islands, Norway.

Norway is the third stop of Lee's weeklong trip that already took him to Vladivostok, Russia, for an annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and Greenland for talks on climate change and resource development. He will leave for Kazakhstan Wednesday.

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