Seemingly out of the blue, United States President Donald Trump told his aides to look into purchasing Greenland, in a report published in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal last Friday, August 16. Greenland, the world’s biggest island and part of the Kingdom of Norway, is located way north of the US close to the North Pole.
The report was met with mockery from various sectors. Greenland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: “Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy, and is a new frontier for adventure tourism. We’re open for business, but not for sale.”
Greenland is geographically so remote from the Philippines, which is close to the equator. But climate change is changing the face of the earth in a way that is making remote ice-bound areas like Greenland increasingly attractive for human habitation and development.
Last Sunday, Greenland’s close neighbor Iceland officially marked the passing of its first glacier, the OKJokull, with the unveiling of a plaque, described as “the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world.” The plaque reads: “In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path.”
Because of its location in the remote north, Greenland, with an area about one-fourth that of the US, has only 57,000 people. But with climate change, it is becoming increasingly attractive to many nations. China began sending scientific missions in 2004 and, in partnership with an Australian company, now has mining rights for rare earths.
Russia too has become more active in the polar region. In a speech last May in Finland, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed Russia and China for “aggressive behavior” in the Arctic. The US Air Force maintains its northernmost base in Thule, Greenland. It was set up in 1943 as the first line of monitoring against potential Russian attack. To this day, it maintains an early warning radar system that helps protect North America.
On top of this security angle, the melting of the polar ice is opening up new economic opportunities, according to an official of the Heritage Foundation. He expressed concern over the increasing investments being made by China in Greenland.
All these may help explain President Trump’s sudden interest in Greenland. It is becoming a new frontier in international rivalries that have long been playing out in our part of the world. The Philippines, with its location as a prime opening to Asia via the Pacific, has long been in the center of these rivalries. With the increasingly critical element of climate change, Greenland has now become a new center of international attention.