Greenland, under the government of Kim Kielsen, has begun in recent years to step up its own path in world politics, knowing its strategic importance in an opening Arctic. Especially in the field of economics, the largest island in the world has gained a lot of attractiveness among the major powers. This is also shown politically, because Greenland now has its own representations in Brussels, Reykjavik and also in Washington DC. Now the government has put forward concrete plans to open a permanent representation in China’s capital Beijing as early as next year.
In its plans submitted to Parliament, the government has highlighted the importance of representation. Today, China is one of the largest export markets for Greenlandic products, and its export volume is around US-Dollar 240 million. Accordingly, it is important to operate direct and open channels of communication with the relevant authorities and agencies, the government writes. Asian companies are often unaware of the status of Greenland. For this reason, the representation should also display the cultural and political aspects of Greenland both in China and the East Asian region and thus strengthen its own position, not only in China, but on a larger scale. The representation is intended to cover the entire East Asian region, especially Japan and South Korea. After China, Japan is an equally important trading partner with a volume of USD 120 million per year. In its statement to Parliament, the government puts the planned cost of opening the representation at around €250,000 and a further €350,000 per year to operate.
In recent years, the share of exports to China in Greenland has been constantly increasing, and Chinese investors and companies have tried to gain a foothold in Greenland, especially because of its wealth of rare earths needed in electronics production. But natural gas and oil deposits and other minerals have also focused attention from China to Greenland in the past. But Greenland’s most important export to Asian markets is halibut. This popular and sought-after edible fish is highly valued in Asia with a correspondingly high demand. And this is precisely where the Greenlandic Government finds itself at a disadvantage compared to its neighbouring countries, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. After Iceland and China signed a free trade agreement in 2014, the price of Greenland halibut came under increasing pressure. The government writes: “The Icelandic fishing industry thus has a significant advantage over the Greenland fishing industry on the Chinese market, with a resulting lower income for Greenland compared to Iceland.”
The timing of Greenland’s government’s plans for rapprochement with China is not politically favorable. China’s government has faced massive criticism around the world for its handling of Hong Kong’s democracy movement and accusations that it operates concentration camps in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Moreover, the trade dispute with the Trump administration is still simmering, and the US governement has blamed many Western states for their trade relations with China. Only a few months ago, the United States and Greenland had concluded an aid and investment agreement worth USD 12.1 million, which in turn provoked criticism from the Danish side, as this had been seen as an attempt by the United States to drive a wedge into Greenland-Danish relations and to promote Greenland’s independence.
Greenland’s prime minister, Kim Kielsen himself, who showed the new self-confident Greenland during his appearance at the Arctic Circle meeting in Reykjavik last year, has also come under domestic political pressure: on the one hand, because of possible bias in enforcing a planned quota increase in halibut fishing, and on the other hand because of a lack of transparency in declaring income by renting out his ship for commercial fishing purposes. An internal Audit commission strongly criticized him for this. Kim Kielsen himself did not comment on this. But his chair could be thrown into the slingshot if there is a no-confidence vote or new elections. What will happen after that with his vision of a strong and even more independent Greenland will then be open again.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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