Authorities and residents in Greenland have branded President Donald Trump’s talk of buying the island “insulting” but have welcomed the global attention it has brought to a nation keen to establish its autonomy from Denmark.
Trump cancelled a state visit to Denmark after Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called his idea “absurd,” sparking a diplomatic spat between the two nations.
There are a range of geopolitical and economic factors at play behind Washington’s interest in the mostly ice-capped island, including its new shipping lanes and vast natural resources, including oil, titanium, nickel, copper, zinc, gold and lead.
Another key driver is China’s increased reach in the Arctic, having already secured significant Greenlandic infrastructure projects in direct conflict with the existing U.S. military presence in the country.
Rod McIlree, CEO of London-listed Bluejay Mining, has operated in Greenland for 11 years, and told CNBC that the unfolding situation is becoming a “race for what is left.” However, he suggested that Greenland “isn’t concerned by the color of anyone’s money.”
In 2009, the Crown of Denmark transferred the rights to the mineral and hydrocarbon occurrences in Greenland to the people of Greenland, instantly rendering its population of around 55,000 people in possession of at least five undeveloped
“To facilitate this, the Greenlandic government at the same time implemented a new mineral and hydrocarbon framework that now fully supports exploitation of its mineral endowment,” McIlree told CNBC. “The minerals industry is a clearly stated strategy and an important part of Greenland’s quest for independence from Denmark.”
McIlree said Greenlandic authorities welcome the interest in the country and the elevation of its profile that the attention from the White House had created. Sentiment in local news reports has reflected this, though it seems that Trump’s personal comments have not been received favorably.
Aki-Matilda Høegh Dam, one of Greenland’s two Members of Parliament (MPs) at the Danish Folketing, said the cancellation of Trump’s visit had brought international attention which presents clear advantages in extending Greenland’s economic and geopolitical presence beyond Denmark, according to local newspaper Sermitsiaq.
“The great international publicity is important because Greenland needs to open up to the rest of the world,” she said, according to a translation.
The paper also reported Greenland’s other MP, Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, as presenting a sterner message to Washington, suggesting that if Trump wanted to discuss Greenland, he should have scheduled a trip to Nuuk, its capital, rather than Copenhagen. Greenland’s Conservative mayor, Rasmus Jarlov, tweeted on Tuesday that Trump’s behavior was “very hard to believe.”
“For no reason Trump assumes that (an autonomous) part of our country is for sale. Then insultingly cancels visit that everybody was preparing for. Are parts of the U.S. for sale? Alaska? Please show more respect,” the tweet read.
Sermitsiaq also spoke to four Nuuk residents, all of whom opposed Trump’s speculation about buying the island, but welcomed the increased global focus on Greenland.
One man suggested Trump is just a “small teddy bear” who is merely posturing and should not be taken seriously, according to a translation, while another lamented the cancelled trip as a missed opportunity to discuss beneficial trade arrangements, but said he would struggle to believe what the president said.