China in Greenland: Mines, Science, and Nods to Independence – by Miguel Martin (The Jamestown Foundation – March 12, 2018)

Editor’s Note: Miguel Martin has previously published on Arctic affairs under the name Jichang Lulu.

Although China’s recent Arctic white paper (SCIO, January 2017), a document primarily intended for foreign consumption, avoids direct mention of Greenland, the island plays an important role in the PRC’s Arctic strategy, due to its abundant natural resources, importance as a scientific research base, and possible emergence as an independent state that could give China more influence in Arctic affairs.

Little actual Chinese investment has taken place in Greenland to date, but Chinese companies are expected to be involved in two of the island’s largest planned mining projects (including one of the world’s largest rare-earth mines), while plans to build research facilities have also been announced, among them a year-round research base and a satellite ground station.

Meanwhile, while Chinese diplomats have avoided any actions that could be construed as support for immediate Greenlandic independence, the possibility is now openly discussed among Chinese academics specializing in the Arctic.

The Long Road to Independence

Greenland enjoys a high level of autonomy as a constituent country of the Danish Kingdom. Most of Greenland’s political class is committed to leaving the Kingdom, although economic independence remains unfeasible in the medium term.

Denmark’s annual block grant provides for more than half of Greenland’s state budget. Seafood accounts for more than 94% of exports, creating vulnerability to price variations (Grønlands Statistik, 2017). The country lacks a qualified workforce. Roughly half the population has only completed lower secondary education (Grønlands Økonomiske Råd, August 2017).

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