US State Department representatives recently issued a strong warning against Chinese and Russian attempts at challenging western allied interests in the High North.
“China now recognizes the importance of Kirkenes, securing a western terminus on the Northern Sea Route, and they are up there and trying to, again, win over the people of northern Norway”, former US Ambassador to Norway Kenneth J. Braithwaite said in a recent hearing before his confirmation as new US Navy Minister.
State Secretary Audun Halvorsen of the Norwegian MFA, however, in an interview with High North News rejects the notion that China represents a threat to the High North.
“We observe tendencies to increasing big power rivalry globally. The Arctic, however, is not at the center of events in this picture. Chinese activity in the region is still limited. The High North is still characterized by low tension and predictability”, Halvorsen says.
Representatives from the US State Department accuse Chinese authorities of ingratiating themselves with Norwegians, in particular in Kirkenes, due to the Northeast Passage. They refer to China’s presence as ‘alarming’. Is China a threat to NATO?
“Following the normalization of political relations between Norway and China in 2016, Chinese interest in cooperation with North Norwegian actors has increased. It is important for the MFA to be in close contact with local authorities and other actors about this so as to secure a shared understanding of issues as well as a unified Norwegian policy in the High North”, Halvorsen says and adds:
“We do not perceive China to be a threat to NATO; however, the alliance also has to relate to Chinas increasing role on the international arena.”
Big power interest
As the Arctic is becoming increasingly available for sea traffic, big powers take a higher interest in the region.
Chinese activity in the region is still limited
On 8 May, navy vessels from the American and British marines left the Barents Sea following a week-long drill in the Arctic. It was the first time since the mid-1980s that American warships sailed the Barents Sea. The purpose of the drill was “maritime security operations”.
The Russian Northern Fleet earlier confirmed that it is paying attention to the NATO vessels’ movements. Norway did not participate in the exercise.
“We want Norwegian forces to participate in this kind of activity when it takes place off the Norwegian coast and when it is expedient. This time, however, it was not a priority”, Frank Bakke Jensen said to TV2 and Audun Halvorsen confirms:
“Norway has participated in a series of exercises and military activities together with allies off the North Norwegian coast recently. However, Norway did not participate in the American-British activity described in the High North News article. That activity also took place outside Norwegian territorial waters”, Halvorsen says and leaves no doubt that Norwegian authorities are still asserting full sovereignty in Norway, both on land and at sea.
“NATO has no military bases in Norway. The Joint Warfare Center at Jåttå by Stavanger is part of NATO’s command structure, however, it is not a NATO base.”
How is the new long-term plan for the Norwegian defense equipped for meeting the challenges we are facing?
“The government has for years increased investments in strategic abilities that will strengthen both Norwegian and allied security. This applies in particular to the new fighter planes, maritime surveillance planes and submarines. One also emphasizes increasing the Armed Forces’ ability to plan for, receive and operate alongside with allied forces in the High North”, Audun Halvorsen says in closing.