Why Is Greenland Gaining Importance For Global Powers Including The US

It is more than once that the idea of purchasing Greenland had been floated by United States president Donald Trump.

And in response, Trump’s idea has been called as “absurd” by the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

The issue has however created a unique diplomatic tension between the two countries.

But the growing geopolitical importance of Greenland is highlighted by Yet Trump’s interest in Greenland. Even China is apparently interested in it.

The new North Atlantic shipping lanes because of the melting of polar ice caps has increased the strategically placed Greenland. These new sea lanes that have opened up has dramatically reduced the travel time for ships and other vessels because they do not have to make the usual trip through the Panama or Suez canals to travel from one end of the world to the other.

With a total population of almost 58,000 people, Greenland is the largest island in the world. About 80 per cent of the land area of the island remains perpetually covered in thick layers ice, which is as thick as 3 kilometres in some places. While the inhabitants of the island are Danish by nationality, the island has been under self rule since 1979 despite being technically being owned by Denmark.

Fishing and tourism are the main economic activities of Greenland. However in recent times, there has been a growing interest in the island because of its huge natural resources, ranging from coal, zinc and copper to rare earth minerals. While previous attempts have been made to estimate the extent of the natural wealth of the island, nothing conclusive have been found yet.

Trump tweeted on August 21 about Greenland: “Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time….”

He further tweeted: “….The Prime Minister was able to save a great deal of expense and effort for both the United States and Denmark by being so direct. I thank her for that and look forward to rescheduling sometime in the future!”

Earlier, ideas of developing a “Polar Silk Road” of trade through the North Atlantic shipping lanes was floated and proposed by China. In 2018, before the country got embroiled in a trade war with the US, proposals for construction of new airports and mining facilities on Greenland were made by China. It however eventually retracted from pushing ahead.

“If [China were to] have a significant investment in a country that is so strategically important for so many countries, they would have influence there,” said Michael Sfraga, director of the Polar Institute at the Wilson Center. “If you invest a lot in a small island country, you could have a lot of sway there.”

A Pentagon report warned earlier this year that Denmark has “publicly expressed concern about China’s interest in Greenland”. The report further said: “civilian research could support a strengthened Chinese military presence in the Arctic Ocean, which could include deploying submarines to the region as a deterrent against nuclear attacks.”

Greenland is also in an advantageous location for the U.S. armed forces. The U.S. and Greenland have had an agreement since World War II to house American military assets on the island.

“There are economic opportunities similar to Greenland across the Arctic,” said Heather A. Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

She said that the iron ore and zinc mines in the region are amongst the largest in the world. However she also added:  “there is a cost to the exploration, a cost to the environment and the people who live in the Arctic and Greenland.”

(Adapted from CNBC.com)

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