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Kiruna - a calm town in North Sweden - is currenty hosting the annual Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting. The Arctic Council is a regional organisation which usually does not receive a lot of geopolitical attention as it mainly focuses on environment, shipping and joint research. However, this time the meeting of foreign ministers will also debate whether to grant China and other Asian nations such as India, Japan, and Singapore an observer status. The application of the EU will also be on the agenda. Everyon is suddenly eager to get a seat at the table.
China’s bid for a seat among the Arctic member states has made most of a media splash because of China’s growing power and increasingly global reach. As the ice is melting, the Arctic has also become an interesting region in terms of new shipping routes, but it also offers potential for resource extractio. The U.S. Geological
In Greenland the snows usually lie until May; this year I landed at the Cold War era airstrip at Kangerlussuaq in April and the bare hillsides were already visible. Under those slopes sit a wealth of minerals and the coveted rare earths, and many Greenlanders believe this bounty is their ticket to prosperity and independence from Denmark.
This has opened up the possibility of large-scale Chinese involvement in getting hold of those minerals. Beijing’s thirst for such resources is well known, and it has become very interested in what lies beneath the melting icecaps of the Arctic region.
That headline has been so compelling that a top level EU negotiator even told the French AFP news agency that 2000 Chinese workers were on the ground in Greenland. A former top American diplomat, Thomas Pickering, wrote in the New York Times about Chinese ambitions of reaching up into the Arctic
‘I want my money back’ was the late Margaret Thatcher’s motto in internal EU negotiations during her time as prime minister. And the EU’s current external debt holders could soon be demanding the same thing. Russia, the main external stakeholder affected by the recent Cyprus banking debacle, has already spoken harshly of the EU bailout as ‘expropriation’.
The Cyprus solution has forced Chinese investors to keep an even more watchful eye on the euro crisis, particularly in light of the loss suffered by external debt holders. Speaking on the bailout, China’s ambassador to the EU expressed his hope ‘that such kind of practice will not be employed in future scenarios’. In late 2012, China’s second-largest insurance company, Ping An, filed a claim against Belgium in an international arbitration court claiming losses from its investment in Fortis, a bank, when it was dismantled and
My point of arrival and departure in Greenland is at the air strip in Kangerlussuaq, a former Cold War era US military base selected for its excellent weather conditions. The runway is almost 3km long, the largest in Greenland. The photo was taken from the summit of a nearby hill after a brisk hike, and if you have extraordinarily good eyesight you might spot that the US military presence isn’t entirely gone: two USAF C-130 aircraft are parked in the far corner. One (and there’s no way you can see this on the photo) is even equipped with skis – making it basically an enormous flying snowboard.
I asked a local about the US presence, and was told that the planes are used to assist
Jonas Parello-Plesner went to Greenland to investigate what the Chinese want there, why resource extraction matters - and what it means for Europe. This is the fourth part of our Greenland series, click here for part 1 and part 2 and part 3.
Today, I went to the "School of Minerals and Petroleum" in Sisimiut. As any school it serves a practical educational purpose but is also an embodiment of the dreams of Greenland’s brighter future as a resource empire.
The school is housed in a brand new building on the outskirts of town. The school was set up to prepare and educate Greenlanders for jobs in the mining and oil sector and to avoid the resource curse witnessed in other resource-rich countries where it is only foreign capital and workers that flow in and out again.
I have joined a group from a conference on mining in the Arctic and we are greeted by Hans Henrichsen, an
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