No, Greenland Does Not Belong to China

By Martin Breum; Jorgen Chemnitz | International Herald Tribune, February 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

No, Greenland Does Not Belong to China


Martin Breum; Jorgen Chemnitz, International Herald Tribune


China is interested, but that does not mean Greenland will break from Denmark anytime soon.

Greenland may well develop into a large exporter of uranium. In the south of the island, rare earth deposits are among the largest in the world. Huge reserves of oil and gas are hidden off shore.

And yes, London Mining, a British mining company, and the Greenland self-government authority are luring Chinese investors to invest $2 billion in an iron-ore mine close to the Greenland ice sheet some 175 kilometers north of Nuuk, the capital.

But let us stay cool as we discuss these prospects. Farfetched speculation is currently emanating from think-tanks and commentators on how Chinese military bases and Greenland's rapid independence from Denmark are likely offshoots of these industrial projects.

Such speculation is less than helpful. Greenland and its population of 57,000 are preparing for difficult transitions and a potential influx of foreign workers, but it is not the end of the world. Chinese investment may provide state-run Chinese companies with political leverage on the small and economically weak Selfrule Authority, but decision-makers in Nuuk are aware of these risks. They are weighing the pros and cons of Chinese investments, just like other governments.

Greenland's population may be small, but Greenland is a democracy and remains firmly within the Kingdom of Denmark and the security sphere of NATO and the United States.

The confusion for many observers probably stems from a misreading of Greenland's relation to Denmark and the Arctic conundrum. Eight states have territory in the Arctic, where newly accessible riches abound. Inuits, Indians, Sami and the peoples of northern Russia all have a say, while a host of non-Arctic states, including China, Singapore and India, also crave influence. China now claims to be a "near-Arctic" state with interests in new Arctic shipping routes, oil, minerals and climate change.

Add to this the complexity of Greenland. The island was granted home rule in 1979 and self rule in 2009 -- including full rights to exploit and administer its abundant natural resources, plus the right to full independence from Denmark should the people of Greenland so choose. The currency, however, remains the Danish krone, and Greenland is still subject to the Danish constitution and to Denmark's foreign and security policies.

Since the 2009 self-rule agreement, Greenland has chased the resulting opportunities. Greenland is poor and the size of the annual subsidy from Copenhagen, currently covering half of Greenland's budget, was frozen in 2009. New sources of income are badly needed.

Greenland's politicians have made visits to China and South Korea and have invited investments from other countries. The global oil industry has been successfully courted. …

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