US financial aid for Greenland sparks outrage in Denmark

The US is offering a $12m financial package to Greenland and will establish a consulate on the world’s largest island as the Trump administration beefs up its Arctic defences against Russia and China.

News of the financial support to the self-governing territory that is part of the kingdom of Denmark has sparked outrage among opposition politicians in Copenhagen, coming just eight months after the Danish and Greenlandic governments rebuffed US president Donald Trump’s expression of interest in buying Greenland.

A senior state department official said the US consulate would be housed in a Danish military facility in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk, and that the new consul would move from Copenhagen once coronavirus permitted in the summer.

The $12m in financial support was intended to “jump-start” US engagement in the resource-rich island and would support investment, energy, tourism and other sectors, according to the state department official.

“The US is clearly working to undermine the Kingdom of Denmark,” said Rasmus Jarlov, a centre-right MP and former minister. “In the end, they might not be present in Greenland at all if they come with this kind of agenda. It is totally unacceptable.” Karsten Honge, a leftwing MP, accused the US of trying to drive a wedge between Greenland and Denmark and urged Danish premier Mette Frederiksen to “draw a line in the ice cap”.

The US is concerned by what the senior state department official described as Russia’s “military build-up in the Arctic” and Chinese efforts to “winkle their way” into Greenland by seeking control over strategic assets in exchange for supporting the island’s desire to expand its wilderness tourism industry.

“It would not be in our interest for China to secure control of critical infrastructure in Greenland,” the official said of repeated past Chinese efforts to secure a former US navy base and become involved in the construction of three airports, an enterprise the US headed off by pushing Denmark to provide financing instead.

“I don’t think anyone should presume that the provision of assistance in any of these areas is designed to pave the way to purchase Greenland,” added the official, describing the establishment of the new US consulate as “good old-fashioned diplomatic tradecraft” and a recognition of the importance of Greenland to US security.

“It takes time to develop closer relationships with other countries. But this good news confirms that our work on building a constructive relationship with the United States is fruitful. It is positive that the increased co-operation between Greenland and the US is reflected in tangible results in the form of funding for projects in Greenland,” said Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s prime minister.

Responding to the outrage from Danish MPs, the US senior official said: “I’m not sure what everyone is all worked up about or why people are upset.” The official added that the US had no plan under way to purchase the island and that Washington and Copenhagen had been “hand in glove on this for months and months now . . . There wasn’t anything broken there for us to fix”.

Mr Trump stunned senior Danish officials in August after he described Ms Frederiksen as “nasty” for rebuffing as “absurd” his interest in buying Greenland, and then cancelled his state visit to Copenhagen. 

Greenland’s relationship to Denmark has long been strained. The island of 56,000 people, whose capital is closer to Washington than Copenhagen, is self-governing in most regards. But Denmark handles its foreign affairs and security, as well as providing a DKr3.6bn ($521m) annual grant that accounts for two-thirds of Greenland’s national budget. There is a strong independence movement, but also a recognition that until the island boosts its economy — potentially through mining of its rich mineral resources and tourism — it will be unable to achieve it.

The US opened a consulate for the first time in 1940 to help keep the island out of Nazi hands during the second world war soon after Denmark fell to Adolf Hitler’s invasion. The senior state department official said the island was “of tremendous strategic importance” to the US throughout the second world war.

The US has tried to buy Greenland before, most recently in 1946 when president Harry Truman offered $100m. The consulate closed in 1953.

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