Tensions Rise Before Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting: USA Launches Head-On Verbal Attack on Russia and China

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched a verbal thunderstorm against Russia and China in the lead-up to the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

There are only Arctic and non-Arctic states. There is no third category. And claiming something else gives China exactly zero rights, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo only hours before Tuesday’s Arctic Council meeting commenced.

In an astonishing speech just hour before the commencing of the formal Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched a head-on verbal attack on both Russia and China.

Claims China has a hidden agenda

Pompeo lashed out against what he argues is China’s hidden agenda in the Arctic, using civilian infrastructure to establish a permanent military presence.

And against Russia, which he argues violates international law along the Northern Sea Route and contributes to a military armament race in the High North.

- Let’s talk about China, Pompeo said after having accounted for how American interest in the Arctic date centuries back and did not start with the acquisition of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

- Beijing claims being a near-Arctic state. The shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 1,500 kilometers. There are only Arctic and non-Arctic states. There is not third category. And claiming something else gives China exactly zero rights, Pompeo said.

Trump dissatisfied with China

President Trump Monday morning tweeted that he was not happy about the speed with which negotiations about a trade agreement with China is going. The American president also said that he will increase custom taxes on a series of Chinese goods this week, from 10 to 25 percent.

Secretary of State Pompeo followed up later in the day and spent a lot of time of his Rovaniemi speech on the economic conflict with China.

- The USA and other Arctic states welcome transparent Chinese investments, investments reflecting economic interests and security ambitions. USA believes in a free market. We know from experience that free and fair competition, based on justice and laws, creates the best result.

- However, all parties to an economy must play by the same rules. Those violating these rules should lose their right to participate in that market, Pompeo said.

He also said that China’s rhetoric and action raises doubts about China’s intentions in the Arctic. Pentagon last week warned that China may use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence, including deploying of submarines.

- I believe the answer is rather clear

- Beijing is attempting to build critical infrastructure using Chinese money, Chinese companies and Chinese workers. In some cases to establish a permanent presence.

- Let us ask ourselves: Do we, the Arctic nations in general or indigenous communities in particular, want to take the road chosen by the previous governments of Sri Lanka or Malaysia, degraded by debts and corruption? Do we want crucial Arctic infrastructure to end up like Chinese-built roads in Ethiopia, roads that fall apart after just a few years?

- Do we want the Arctic to transform into a new South China Ocean, with increasing militarization and competing territorial claims?

- Do we want vulnerable Arctic climate to be exposed to the same ecological destruction that has been caused by the Chinese fishing fleet in the oceans around the coast of China?

- I believe the answer to this is pretty clear, Pompeo said.

Argues that Moscow’s claims are illegal

Pompeo then went out against Russia, which he alleges is contributing to militarization of the Arctic.

- Russia is already leaving its footprints in the snow in the form of military boots. No one denies that Russia has significant Arctic interests. We recognize that Russia is not the only Arctic nation making illegal claims. The USA has a long-standing dispute with Canada regarding the Northwest Passage.

- However, Russia is unique. Her actions should require special attention from this Council. Because we know that Russian territorial claims may lead to violence. 13,000 people have been killed as a consequence of Russian aggression in the Ukraine. Even if the Arctic is a wilderness it does not mean that the Arctic should become a lawless place.

The US Secretary of State then underlined that Washington regards the Russian requirements about vessels having to apply beforehand for permission prior to passaging through the Northern Sea Route as illegal.

- We are worried about Russia’s claims over international waters along the Northern Sea Route, including the plans about attaching the Northern Sea Route to China’s new maritime silk road. Moscow is already, illegally, requiring other nations to apply for permission prior to passage along the NSR, Pompeo said.


This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.