Pompeo Warns Arctic Nations About Russian, Chinese 'Aggressive' Behavior
By RFE/RL May 07, 2019
The United States is beefing up its presence in the Arctic to keep Russia's and China's "aggressive" behavior in check in the resource-rich region, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.
"The region has become an arena for power and for competition. And the eight Arctic states must adapt to this new future," Pompeo said in a speech in Finland on May 6, ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers from the Arctic Council.
The Arctic Council consists of the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden with the region's indigenous populations also represented.
Thawing ice in the Arctic is beginning to give increased access to much of the planet's remaining undiscovered reserves of oil and gas and large deposits of minerals, prompting nearby states as well as world powers such as China to rush and claim territory or boost their presence in the region.
Speaking in the northern Finnish city of Rovaniemi, Pompeo said: "Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. It need not be the case. And we stand ready to ensure that it does not become so."
That means boosting U.S. security presence by "hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, [and] expanding coast-guard funding," he said.
Pompeo had sharp words for China, which holds observer status in the Arctic Council, saying that its attempts to inject itself into the polar region's affairs by pushing infrastructure projects and commercial investments had to be watched closely.
"China's pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere will inform how it treats the Arctic," he said, warning that corruption, low-quality investments, militarization, and "ecological devastation" were potential effects of allowing rising Chinese influence.
Pompeo rejected China's assertion that it is a "near-Arctic nation," saying, "There are only Arctic states and non-Arctic states. No third category exists, and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing."
He accused Russia of a "pattern of aggressive behavior," including increased militarization and demanding other nations request permission to pass through the Northern Sea Route -- the Arctic shipping lane under Russian control that connects the Atlantic and Pacific.
Pompeo insisted that Russia's actions deserve "special attention" of the Arctic Council, saying, "We know Russian territorial ambitions can turn violent."
He pointed to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014.
Russia has beefed up its military presence in the Arctic region, modernizing its Northern Fleet and reopening bases that were abandoned following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and Bloomberg
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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