U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday during his visit in Denmark that the United States will become more active in the Arctic to counter growing Russian influence and thwart attempts by China to insert itself into the region.
After talks with Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Pompeo met with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, Faroese Foreign Minister Jenis Av Rana, and Greenlandic Foreign and Energy Minister Steen Lynge, in Copenhagen, Denmark to discuss and coordinate all aspects of Arctic policy including security.
The Arctic is a key interest to both Denmark and the United States, “two of only five Arctic coastal states,” said Kofod at the press conference after their meeting.
Both Denmark and the United States are aware of “the increased global attention and military presence in the Arctic by Russia, Kofod said, they both want to uphold the provisions of the Ilulissat Declaration (pdf), adopted in 2008 by five arctic states bordering on the Arctic Ocean Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States.
The Declaration states that the melting of ice in the Arctic can potentially lead to “the increased use of Arctic waters for tourism, shipping, research, and resource development “and can impact vulnerable ecosystems, the livelihoods of local inhabitants and indigenous communities, and the potential exploitation of natural resources.”
The declaration blocks the development of “a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean.” The five signatories have a stewardship role in protecting [the Arctic ecosystem]” and will address “new possibilities and challenges.”
Av Rana told Danish broadcaster TV2 he was concerned the Arctic could become a battleground for the United States and other major global powers, including Russia and China.
“We’re very worried if the Arctic becomes a playground or a scene of war for the great powers,” av Rana said.
Pompeo welcomed Denmark’s cooperation on the Arctic issues and said that at the meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland last year he asked “free nations to work with the United States to enshrine shared values like freedom, transparency, sovereignty, and sustainability in the Arctic region,’ adding there are countries competing in the Arctic “that don’t always play by those rules, if at all.”
The United States considers both China and Russia potential threats in the Arctic. “I talked about the Chinese Communist Party’s threat to freedom everywhere, to the people of Denmark included,” Pompeo said at the press conference in Denmark.
At the Arctic Council meeting last year, he expressed concern over Russia’s aggressive actions in the Arctic like re-opening its “Cold War Arctic military base,” building new “bases north of the Arctic Circle,” as well as securing its “presence through sophisticated new air defense systems and anti-ship missiles.”
China has already invested nearly $90 billion in the development of the Arctic. China is developing shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean, and plans to invest in building infrastructure between Canada, Northwest Territories, and Russia, Pompeo said.
The Pentagon warned “that China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence,” Pompeo said.
These investments can also be used by the Chinese regime as a tool of political influence and coercion, for example, to obtain rights to operate strategically located ports and terminals, Pompeo said.
The Chinese regime uses debt trap diplomacy or joint ventures to obtain the operating rights to strategically critical ports and terminals. It already controls major ports such as the Suez Canal Terminal in Egypt, the Euromax Terminal in the Netherlands, also known as “the gate of Europe,” and the Panama Canal.
China has attempted to finance and build airports in Greenland but Denmark prevented it, U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands said when in an interview at the Hudson Institute in June.
Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark, has chosen Swedish Ericsson over Chinese Huawei to supply equipment for its fifth-generation (5G) telecommunication network.
Kofod also welcomed the reopening in June of the U.S. Consulate in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland located only 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, after its closure in 1953.
Kofod lauded economic cooperation with the United States and its commitment to fund projects.
“The U.S. is one of Denmark’s biggest trading partners. We aim to expand cooperation even further based on free and fair trade,” Kofod said adding that both countries “have a lot to offer each other.”
The United States has also signed new memorandums of understanding to cooperate with partners in Denmark in areas “like growing Greenland’s mining and energy sectors through transparent investment, helping manage land and fisheries, increasing tourism, and much, much more,” Pompeo said.
“We’ll keep working to ensure that our Greenlandic neighbors benefit fully from the presence of Thule Air Force Base,” he added.
Earlier this year, the United States provided $12.1 million in economic aid to Greenland in anticipation of expanding its presence in the Arctic area and also to protect its interests amid growing competition from Russia, and China, according to the State Department.
Pompeo also announced that the United States and the Faroe Islands, an autonomous Danish territory with some 52,000 inhabitants that is located north of Scotland between Iceland and Norway, “have agreed to start a formal dialogue to talk about key issues like healthy fisheries and enhanced commercial engagement.”
An innovative Faroese company specializing in cultivating seaweed, Ocean Rainforest will participate in a three-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to test seaweed cultivation in California, according to the company website. The goal of the project is to develop the necessary technology and machinery, and enable future production for high volume applications, including for bioenergy, a State Department factsheet says.
Faroe Island declined to sign a 5G contract with Chinese Huawei, which is considered an untrusted vendor by the United States, despite Chinese regime threats to drop a trade agreement with this autonomous territory, the State Department official said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.