The Russian mini submarine Mir-1 reached the seabed more than 4,000m beneath the surface of the Arctic Ocean on Aug. 2 and left a cylinder of titanium containing a Russian flag to proclaim Russia's sovereignty over the Arctic. Russia claims that the Lomonosov Ridge, which extends nearly 2,000km through the Arctic, is a natural extension of the Siberian continental shelf. Therefore, it says, an area of 1.6 million square kilometers of the Arctic, including the North Pole, should belong to Russia.
After Russia laid claim to the Arctic, Canada announced that it would establish a military training center 600km south of the North Pole in Resolute Bay, a deepwater port in Nanisivik on the north tip of Baffin Island, and it plans to spend US$7.1 billion on ice-breaking patrol ships to prevent encroachment on its territory.
Meanwhile, Denmark said it would send a team of scientists to the Arctic to collect scientific evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge is directly connected to Greenland.
The US believes that the Northeast Passage is neutral, and along with Canada, have proclaimed that Russia's planting a flag has no legal significance.
In addition to those countries, Norway also claims to have sovereignty over the Arctic. With the growing shortage of energy sources, its very possible that the dispute could stir up a new global battle for maritime hegemony.
According to US surveys, the oil and natural gas stores beneath the Arctic account for about one-fourth of the global total. As global warming melts the ice, it will be easier to extract the resources. Countries neighboring the Arctic Sea like Russia, Canada, the US, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden are all very interested in the resources in the region.
Moreover, as the ice melts, more shipping lanes could open up. The Northwest Passage, which connects many Arctic islands, is the most direct route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The sea shipping lanes between Europe and Asia could shrink by 2,500km.
This struggle for the Arctic Ocean has already caught world attention.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in East Asian waters, other contests for supremacy have already quietly been going on for some time.
For example, the Diaoyutai Islands have long been an unresolved dispute between Taiwan, Japan and China. There have been constant arguments between the fishing and oil industries, especially between China and Japan.
South Korea dispatched soldiers to occupy the Liancourt Rocks and planted its flag on the ocean floor to claim its sovereignty over them. Of course Japan was none too pleased, and tensions have run very high between the two countries over ocean research.
Japan recently passed the Basic Ocean Law and plans to create a maritime affairs minister. It also plans to plant coral reefs around Okinotori Islands and put manmade structures on them to boost the claim that it is an island, which would give Japan exclusive economic control of the waters 370km around them.
After Sept. 11, in the name of peace, Japan has dispatched troops to East Timor, extending its power into the South China Sea to compete with China, whose warships in recent years have been actively trying to probe the waters around Taiwan and break the chain of coastal islands surrounding it, thereby carving up the East Asian seas. These are developments that Taiwan should pay particular attention to.