Donald Trump’s interest in buying Greenland stuns Denmark
A proposal floated by US president Donald Trump to purchase Greenland has been met with a mixture of incredulity and derision, with the self-governing Danish territory declaring it was “not for sale”.
“It must be an April Fool’s Day joke,” Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who was Denmark’s prime minister until June, wrote in a tweet on Friday in response to reports that Mr Trump had reportedly raised with his key advisers the prospect of buying the world’s biggest island.
“Greenland is not for sale, and can’t be sold,” the island’s government said in a statement. “But Greenland is ready for negotiations to enter collaborations with other countries, including the US.” Jeppe Kofod, the new Danish centre-left foreign minister, said Greenland could not be bought “in dollars, yuan or roubles.”
The Arctic island, home to just 56,000 residents, depends on Copenhagen for foreign affairs and national security while being geographically part of North America. It has geopolitical significance because of its location between North America and Europe, abutting the North Pole. It also has significant natural resources potential, including rare earth metals, oil and gas.
Mr Trump’s interest in purchasing Greenland was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which said he had floated it at dinner and other conversations with some aides, including the White House counsel. The White House declined to comment.
Arctic experts said the Trump administration had grown increasingly interested in the region. “There has been this awakening about the Arctic — and this concept of great power competition in the Arctic — within the administration over the last six to seven months,” said Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
News of Mr Trump’s interest in acquiring Greenland came as Mette Frederiksen, Denmark’s new centre-left prime minister, prepared to make her debut trip to the island this weekend. There is strong support for independence from Denmark in Greenland, but a sale to the US is considered a non-starter.
“Trump buy Greenland?! Hopefully it’s a joke, but otherwise it is a terrible thought, with the risk of the militarisation of Greenland and less independence for the Greenlandic people — besides being a great loss to Denmark,” said Martin Lidegaard, a centre-left former Danish foreign minister. Aaja Larsen, one of Greenland’s two MPs in the Danish parliament, said: “I don’t think it’s a good idea. I say ‘no thank you’ to Trump.”
For all the gallows humour, Denmark has history of selling islands to the US. In 1916, at the height of the first world war, the US bought the Danish West Indies for $25m amid fears that Germany might gain control over what became the US Virgin Islands. The US also sought to buy Greenland before, most recently in 1946 when president Harry Truman offered $100m.
Mr Trump will travel to Copenhagen for a state visit next month, when he is expected to meet Ms Frederiksen and Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s premier. The US already has an air base at Thule, inside the Arctic Circle in the north of Greenland, which enjoys considerable autonomy.
Any move by the US to seek greater control over Greenland would spark alarm in Moscow, amid increasing militarisation of the Arctic region and attempts by Russia to exert more control over the frozen north.
Since 2013, Russia has spent billions of dollars building or upgrading seven military bases along its northern Arctic coastline, setting up radar stations, missile defence batteries, airstrips and ports, as part of a bid to be the pre-eminent military power in the region.
The US warned Denmark last year over Chinese interest in building three airports on Greenland, eventually pushing Copenhagen to provide financing to keep China out. Beijing this year published its first white paper on the Arctic, in which it publicly shifted its interests in Greenland from scientific research to commerce.
In May, Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, gave a speech in Finland attacking “aggressive” actions by China and Russia in the Arctic. “This is America’s moment to stand up as an Arctic nation,” he said.
“We’re entering a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats to Arctic interests and its real estate.”
Most of the reaction to Mr Trump’s interest was whimsical. “Before we buy Greenland we should take care of Puerto Rico,” said Andrew Yang, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.