Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, has warned against “aggressive” behaviour from China and Russia in the Arctic, calling on nations with Arctic territory to beware increased competition for power in the region.
Speaking in Finland ahead of a meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council, Mr Pompeo said there was a “new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats”, and urged the council to expand its discussion beyond climate change and scientific collaboration.
“So far the Arctic Council has done its job,” said Mr Pompeo. “But we face a new era of challenge. Now is a time for increased vigilance.”
Mr Pompeo argued that melting ice caps will open new sea passageways and opportunities for trade, reducing the time of travel between Asia and the west.
The eight nations comprising the Arctic Council include the US, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden, all of which hold territory above the Arctic Circle.
China, meanwhile, holds “observer” status in the group, although Mr Pompeo was dismissive of its claim to be a “near-Arctic state”.
“The shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 900 miles,” said Mr Pompeo. “There are only Arctic and non-Arctic states. No third category exists, and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing.”
Mr Pompeo warned that China, which has invested around $90bn in the Arctic since 2012, was developing shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean.
“This is all part of a familiar pattern: Beijing attempts to develop critical infrastructure using Chinese money, Chinese companies, and Chinese workers — in some cases, to establish a permanent Chinese security presence,” said Mr Pompeo.
Mr Pompeo also accused Russia of “aggressive” behaviour in the region, including claiming international waters in the Northern Sea Route.
Although Mr Pompeo acknowledged that Russia had legitimate interests in the Arctic region, on account of its large Arctic landmass, he warned that Russia’s “territorial ambitions can turn violent”.
“Russia is already leaving snow prints in the form of army boots,” said Mr Pompeo. He noted that the country formally announced to increase its military presence in the region in 2014, and has since renovated old military bases and infrastructure.
Mr Pompeo said the Trump administration would “fortify” the US’s security and diplomatic presence in the Arctic, and was hosting military exercises, rebuilding its icebreaker fleet and expanding its Coast Guard fund.
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