Copenhagen (AFP) – Rival interests in the Arctic topped the agenda when the US Secretary of State visited Denmark Wednesday, a year after the countries butted heads over President Donald Trump’s offer to buy Greenland.
Following a visit to the UK where he called on the “entire world” to stand up to China, Mike Pompeo urged “free nations” to “enshrine shared values like freedom, transparency, sovereignty and sustainability in the Arctic region”.
“This mission is all the more urgent as we face new competition in the region from countries that don’t always play by those rules, if at all,” Pompeo said at a joint news conference with his Danish counterpart Jeppe Kofod.
He also criticised, as he has in the past, China designating itself a near-Arctic nation.
In 2018 China unveiled a vision for a “Polar Silk Road,” and in the same year a state-owned constructions company entered a bid to renovate airports in Greenland, an Arctic territory covering over two million square kilometres.
“I think we all have been naive,” Pompeo admitted.
“I think we’ve all been a little bit naive to watch not only the Russians but the Chinese interests there competing to become more and more aggressive.”
“We better make sure that we respond in a way that increases prosperity and security for the United States and for the people of Denmark,” he added.
Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, eventually chose to work with Copenhagen, with media reports citing fears that Chinese investments could upset Washington as one reason for that decision.
Pompeo, after first meeting with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, held talks with Kofod, joined by foreign affairs representatives for Greenland and the Faroe Islands, both Danish autonomous territories.
In Kofod’s words, Denmark considers the US its “absolutely closest ally” and has contributed troops to NATO missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
But relations hit some turbulence in August 2019 when Trump floated the idea of the US buying the autonomous Arcic territory.
– ‘Absurd’ proposal –
Frederiksen dismissed the proposal as “absurd”, leading Trump to cancel a planned visit to Copenhagen over what he said was the “nasty” tone of the response.
While the offer was the subject of some ridicule, analysts say it indicates the US’s renewed strategic interest in the Arctic region, which it subsided after the end of the Cold War.
Kofod, in his comments Wednesday, was keen to stress that both countries had put the disagreement over Greenland behind them.
“That discussion was dealt with last year, it was not on the table in our discussion,” he told reporters.
The US reopened a consulate in Greenland’s capital Nuuk last month, with approval from Copenhagen. In April, it announced a $12.1 million aid package.
Greenland is also home to another strategic American asset, the Thule Air Base, the US Air Force’s northernmost base.
But while Denmark and the US seem to be eye to eye on the Arctic, there is another bone of contention: the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline being built between Russia and Germany.
The US strongly opposes the pipeline, which runs through the Baltic, crossing Danish waters. Washington says it risks increasing the dependence of NATO countries on Russian gas.
It imposed sanctions on companies working on the project late last year — a move strongly opposed by the European Union — and has recently threatened more.
Denmark was the last country to approve the pipeline, holding up the unveiling by several months, before finally giving the green light in October 2019.
While never explicitly mentioning the pipeline project, Pompeo said the US appreciated “Denmark’s steps to diversify the sources and means by which it meets its energy needs, another important aspect of national security”.