WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is poised to announce an expanded diplomatic presence in Greenland and a new assistance package for the vast island aimed at thwarting growing Chinese and Russian influence in the Arctic.
The announcement, expected Thursday, will come less than a year after President Donald Trump drew derision for expressing an interest in buying Greenland. Already, suggestions of a greater U.S. presence in Greenland have been met with criticism in Denmark, of which the island is part.
U.S. and European officials say the administration, along with Greenland’s government, will announce the opening of a U.S. Agency for International Development office at the new American consulate in the capital, Nuuk, and at least $12 million in new aid projects.
The American ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, previewed the announcement when she wrote in an online publication this week that the United States could offer “a substantial package of economic aid” to Greenland and would be “the preferred partner in the Arctic."
In the news outlet Altinget, Sands accused Russia of “aggressive behavior and increased militarization in the Arctic” and China of pursuing “predatory economic interests” in Greenland.
That sparked harsh reactions in Denmark.
“They have clearly crossed the line,” said Carsten Hoenge, an outspoken member of the left-leaning Socialist People’s Party that supports the Social Democratic minority government. He said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen must ”take action" to clarify relations with United States. "We must draw a line in the ice cap,” Hoenge told Altinget on Wednesday.
The U.S. Agency for International Development office in Nuuk will initially oversee the handling of at least $12.1 million in new U.S. assistance for Greenland that is intended mainly to boost the energy and tourism sectors and blunt Chinese and Russian influence, the officials said. They were not authorized to speak to the matter publicly before the formal announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.
When the State Department notified Congress in January that it intended to move ahead with both steps, the department said that Washington “considers Greenland to be strategically important, particularly as China and Russia become more engaged in the region.”
The department told lawmakers at the time that they would “help counter malign Chinese and Kremlin influence by supporting Greenlanders to build their capacity, resilience and self-reliance.”
Last August, Trump's desire to buy Greenland, a semi-autonomous part of the Denmark, emerged in press reports in Washington. Greenland Premier Kim Kielsen said then that the island was not for sale, adding: “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland is Greenlandic. I persistently hope that this is not something that is seriously meant.”
Retreating ice could uncover potential oil and mineral resources in Greenland which, if successfully tapped, could dramatically change the island’s fortunes. But no oil has yet been found in Greenlandic waters and 80% of the island is covered by an ice sheet that is up to 3 kilometers (2 miles) thick, which means exploration is only possible in coastal regions.
Even there, conditions are far from ideal, due to the long winter with frozen ports, 24-hour darkness and temperatures regularly dropping below minus 20 Fahrenheit (minus 30 Celsius) in the northern parts.
Olsen reported from Copenhagen.