This essay is a part of “On China’s New Silk Road,” a podcast by the International Reporting Centre that tracks China’s international ambitions. Over 9 episodes, Mary Kay Magistad, a former China correspondent for The World, companions with native journalists on 5 continents to uncover the results of probably the most sweeping international infrastructure initiative in historical past.
Melting ice within the Arctic Ocean and on Greenland’s ice sheet are indicators of accelerating local weather change — however China’s leaders see an upside.
“The melting ice additionally gives financial alternatives for the event of the Arctic, together with for the Asian international locations,” mentioned Gao Feng, China’s particular consultant for Arctic Affairs, on the October 2019 Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavík.
China has even added a “Polar Silk Road” to its Belt and Road Initiative, some of the bold international infrastructure tasks ever. By way of it, loans from Chinese language state banks are funding the constructing of roads, railways, ports, pipelines, 5G telecommunications methods and extra, all world wide — and now, within the Arctic as effectively.
The Polar Silk Highway applies the identical strategy to Arctic international locations, with China investing in mining and vitality, and organising analysis stations and satellite tv for pc knowledge receiver stations. It’s also working with Russia to hyperlink the Northern Sea Route by means of the Arctic Ocean with China’s Maritime Silk Road that begins in Asia and extends to Europe. That route can shave 10 days or extra off a journey between China and Europe, in comparison with going by means of the Suez Canal.
China’s initiative has revived US curiosity within the Arctic and stoked considerations over an bold rising energy.
Over the previous decade, China has made its Arctic ambitions recognized and its presence felt all through the area. It efficiently lobbied to turn out to be, in 2013, a everlasting observer to the Arctic Council, a high-level, intergovernmental discussion board fashioned by the eight international locations which have territory within the Arctic: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and america.
Greenland is of explicit curiosity to China for myriad causes: its uranium and rare earth elements; oil and gasoline reserves believed to lie off its shores; fish in its territorial waters, and its strategic place comparatively close to america.
The US has had a army presence in Greenland since World Conflict II; the US arrange air bases there when Germany occupied Denmark — then the colonial energy controlling Greenland. The US Consulate in Greenland closed in 1953. Its solely army base now could be Thule Air Base in northern Greenland.
Greenland has had home rule since 1979, with Denmark nonetheless controlling international and army coverage. A powerful pro-independence motion is pushing for Greenland to finally turn out to be its personal sovereign state. A Beijing-based, Arctic assume tank has noted that an impartial Greenland, with 57,000 individuals on a resource-rich territory bigger than Alaska, could possibly be an actual alternative for China.
“This would be the key node for the profitable implementation of the Polar Silk Highway,” mentioned Xiao Yang, director of the Arctic Analysis Heart at Beijing Worldwide Research College, in a current paper.
That could be one cause President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland from Denmark — a proposal Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen known as “absurd.” It’s additionally led to the reopening this previous June of a US Consulate in Greenland’s capital metropolis, Nuuk, and to elevated US engagement in Greenland and the Arctic.
“We’re internet hosting army workouts, strengthening our power presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, increasing coast guard funding, and creating a brand new senior army publish for Arctic affairs, within our personal army,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a May 2019 speech to the Arctic Council.
That got here lower than a 12 months after Russia held its largest military exercises since the Cold War, with 300,000 troops and a small Chinese language army contingent becoming a member of in for maneuvers held, partly, within the Arctic. They had been adopted by NATO’s largest army workouts for the reason that Chilly Conflict, with 50,000 troops going by means of maneuvers in the identical area.
“Definitely, the Chinese language army has been extra concerned within the Arctic, particularly by means of cooperation with Russia,” mentioned Marc Lanteigne, chief editor of Over the Circle, an internet site on Arctic safety.
He’s additionally an affiliate professor of politics, safety and worldwide relations on the Arctic College of Norway in Tromsø. However Lanteigne says China’s main pursuits within the Arctic are extra about entry to assets and to the Northern Sea Route by means of the Arctic Ocean. For now, the route is just open from late July till the waters freeze, and Russia makes use of a fleet of icebreakers to clear ice even then. China has two icebreakers of its personal. Each Russia and China count on that local weather change will make elevated use of the Northern Sea Route potential — and worthwhile.
In the meantime, China has taken a 30% stake in a liquified natural gas project in northern Russia’s Yamal Peninsula, with about half of China’s liquified pure gasoline now coming from Russia.
China has been investing elsewhere within the Arctic, too. Greenland’s authorities has courted such funding.
“The Greenland authorities has performed annual journeys to China to advertise funding alternatives in Greenland for the previous 9 years,” mentioned Vittus Qujaukitsoq, Greenland’s finance minister. “And I have been to China on three events in numerous portfolios I’ve had, however most lately, to advertise industrial funding alternatives in Greenland.”
Chinese language corporations are fascinated by mining in Greenland, including a proposed project to mine rare earth minerals and uranium, working with an Australian companion. The proposal is now present process security and environmental opinions.
A number one Chinese language state-owned enterprise, the China Communications Building Firm, was also under consideration to develop three of Greenland’s airports, in Nuuk, Ilulissat and Qaqortoq, to extend tourism. But US pressure on Denmark associated to safety considerations led the Danish authorities to contribute funding for the airport enlargement tasks, and select a distinct contractor.
Nonetheless, Greenland Finance Minister Qujaukitsoq hasn’t given up on Chinese language funding.
“On the finish of the day, it’s not attention-grabbing for me whether or not the cash comes from China or from the US, or from Canada, or from any nation,” he mentioned. “For me, probably the most attention-grabbing half is making progress and progress in Greenland.”
He says earlier than Greenland can turn out to be impartial, a aim he helps, it wants extra and higher training and job alternatives for Greenlanders. Greater than 80% are Inuit, shut cousins of Inuit in Alaska and Canada, and climate change has affected the ability of some to live and hunt in smaller, more remote communities. He sees a future for Greenland by which tourism and funding carry new alternatives, each financial and political. And he hopes a lot of that funding comes from Greenland’s nearest neighbors and NATO companions, america and Canada.
“We’ve different issues when it comes to safety issues, which international our bodies that we appeal to to Greenland, not solely quick time period, however in the long run,” he mentioned.
Qujaukitsoq sees a future for an impartial Greenland that can also be nonetheless firmly a part of NATO and never, like Djibouti in japanese Africa, a number to each a US army base and a Chinese language one.
“I don’t assume it’s fascinating for us to have Chinese language army in Greenland,” he mentioned. “It’s out of the query, as I see it.”