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6 May, 2019 14:51

Hands off the Arctic: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns China & Russia away from the north

Hands off the Arctic: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns China & Russia away from the north

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned China and Russia to “respect our interests” in the Arctic, or face the consequences.

Frozen and desolate, the Arctic region looks set to be the next frontier for competition between the US, Russia, and China. Speaking at a meeting of the Arctic Council in Finland on Monday, Pompeo launched a broadside against the US’ competitors in the region, particularly China.

“Arctic seaways could become the 21st century Suez and Panama canals,” America’s top diplomat stated.

“China is already developing shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean. This is part of a very familiar pattern. Beijing attempts to develop critical infrastructure using Chinese money, Chinese companies and Chinese workers, in some cases to establish a permanent Chinese security presence.”

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Although China holds observer status on the Arctic Council, the country is 900 miles from the Arctic Ocean. Nevertheless, melting polar ice means viable sea routes across the region will soon be open, and Beijing has given these consideration in its Maritime Silk Road infrastructure plan. During a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed interest in linking Russia’s Northern Sea Route with China’s Maritime Silk Road.

Such a route could slash shipping times from China to the West by several weeks.

Where Beijing sees a business opportunity, Pompeo sees a threat.

“China’s pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere should inform what we do, and how it might treat the Arctic,” he warned.

“Do we want crucial Arctic infrastructure to end up like Chinese-constructed roads in Ethiopia? Crumbling and dangerous after only a few years. Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea? Fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims.”

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Aside from its plans to hook up trade routes with China, Pompeo also warned Russia against militarizing the Arctic region. However, 50 percent of the Arctic coastline is Russian territory, and the region is of key strategic and sovereign importance for Moscow.

Both the US and Russia have flexed their military muscle in the region. NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise last year was the alliance’s biggest drill in Norway in more than a decade, and Russia’s upcoming Tsentr-2019 exercises are poised to be “a serious test of the battle capacities” of the nation’s Arctic forces, according to the Russian military.

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