Politics

Pompeo calls out Canada, China, Russia over Arctic policy

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stunned onlookers Monday by taking swipes at Canada, China and Russia in a speech to delegates attending the Arctic Council ministerial.

'Russia is not the only country making illegitimate claims'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks to the media on the sidelines of the Arctic Council ministers' working dinner at the Arktikum museum in Rovaniemi, Finland, Monday, May 6, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/The Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stunned onlookers Monday by taking swipes at Canada, China and Russia in a speech to delegates attending the Arctic Council ministerial.

Pompeo, along with foreign ministers from the seven other Arctic nations — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Russia — is in Rovaniemi, Finland this week for the eleventh Arctic Council ministerial meeting.

Pompeo used his speech to call out countries he accused of making illegitimate claims to Arctic territory, citing Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage as internal waters. The U.S. considers the Northwest Passage to be international waters.

"We recognize Russia is not the only country making illegitimate claims," he said, referring to Canada.

Pompeo singled out Russia in his speech over its role in fomenting the crisis in Ukraine and its moves to reopen military bases in the North as commercial activity increases along the Northern Sea Route.

"We're concerned about Russia's claim over the international waters of the Northern Sea Route, including its newly announced plans to connect it with China's Maritime Silk Road," he said.

China entitled to 'exactly nothing,' says Pompeo

Pompeo questioned China's claim to a say in Arctic policy, pointing out that the "shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 900 miles."

"Beijing claims to be a near-Arctic state," Pompeo said, citing China's 2018 white paper on the Arctic. "There are Arctic states and non-Arctic states. No third category exists. China claiming otherwise entitles them to exactly nothing."

China has been an Arctic Council observer country since 2013. But its Arctic ambitions drew worldwide attention last year after it released a policy document that laid out the country's plans for massive investments and infrastructure projects in the North to establish a so-called 'Polar Silk Road.'

A Russian military snowmobile on Kotelny Island in the Russian Arctic. (Vladimir Isachenkov/Associated Press)

Pompeo said the U.S. welcomes Chinese investment in the Arctic but warned that Washington needs to "examine these activities closely." He cited a U.S. Defense Department report on May 2 that said civilian research could support a strengthened Chinese military presence in the Arctic Ocean, including the deployment of submarines to the region as a "deterrent against nuclear attack."

"China's words and actions raise doubts about its intentions," he said.

The intergovernmental forum is made up of the eight northern nations and six Arctic Indigenous groups, and its mandate is to discuss sustainable development and environmental protection in the North. Military and security issues have been explicitly excluded from the Arctic Council since its founding — something Pompeo overlooked in his remarks.

"I feel very bad," said Gao Feng, China's special representative for the Arctic and head of the Chinese delegation at the Arctic Council ministerial, responding to Pompeo's speech. "The business of the Arctic Council is cooperation, environmental protection, friendly consultation and the sharing and exchange of views. This is completely different now.

"And talking to the biggest Arctic Council nation, Russia, like that? I can't find a good word (in English) to describe it.

Lassi Heininen, research director at Finland's University of Helsinki, said the content and timing of Pompeo's speech were out of place at an Arctic Council ministerial, where traditionally no one state tries to "steal the show."

"What has happened that he has to act so aggressively towards China and Russia?" Heininen said. "(Because) even when there are turbulence or uncertainties, the Arctic Council says, 'Let's keep this out,' Because we have certain common interests to have some solid ground.

"I hope that this will not open a new kind of use of the Arctic Council, or misuse of it, for other purposes."

U.S. dragging its heels on climate language

The United States has been heavily criticized by other Arctic nations for stonewalling on language related to climate change in the Arctic Council's upcoming Rovaniemi Declaration.

Everyone from Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to officials from other Arctic states have become increasingly vocal about U.S. efforts to remove mentions of climate change and the Paris climate accord from the final declaration, which is expected to be signed on Tuesday.

Pompeo didn't mention climate change in his speech but tried to burnish the U.S.'s environmental credentials in the Arctic by citing its involvement in the 2018 moratorium on fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean and its reduction of black carbon emissions by 16 per cent since 2013.

Write to Eilis Quinn at Eilis.Quinn@cbc.ca

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