As the Arctic's attractions mount, Greenland is a security black hole

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On a windy August afternoon in 2017, Akitsinnguaq Ina Olsen was relaxing in the old harbour of Nuuk, Greenland's capital, when a Chinese icebreaker...
By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - sailed unannounced into the Arctic island's territorial waters.

"I saw it by chance," Olsen, 50, told Reuters. "My first thought was: 'They're already here!' They're pretty cheeky, those Chinese."

She pulled out her phone and took a picture of the 167-meter long Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon), before it turned around and disappeared.

The Chinese ship was one of a growing number of unexpected arrivals in Arctic waters as shrinking sea ice has fast-tracked a race among global powers for control over resources and waterways. Both China and Russia have been making increasingly assertive moves in the region, and after the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year said now is "America's moment to stand up as an Arctic nation and for the Arctic's future," military activity is stepping up.

Greenland is a semi-autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark and Copenhagen runs the island's defence through its Joint Arctic Command. On several occasions since 2006, foreign vessels have turned up unexpectedly or without the necessary protocols, in waters that NATO-member Denmark aims to defend, Greenland residents and military sources in Denmark and the United States told Reuters.

Copenhagen and its Arctic neighbours have tried in recent decades to keep the region what they call a "low tension" area. But each event underscores new challenges for Denmark and its allies.

The main problem: It's hard to see what's going on there.

Greenland, which U.S. President Donald Trump offered unsuccessfully to buy from Copenhagen last year, is largely an ice sheet with a rocky coastline of 44,000 km (27,000 miles) - longer than the earth's equator. It's hidden by almost complete darkness in the winter months.

Beneath its rocks and ice are abundant resources of minerals and rare earth metals used in equipment from smartphones to electric vehicles and military jets, as well as uranium and potentially vast resources of oil…
Reuters, Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
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