Russia and China will be stopped from dominating Arctic waters, a U.S. admiral has insisted.
“It’s nobody’s lake,” said Adm. James Foggo, the commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa and Joint Forces Command Naples. “It should have free and fair access to, certainly, all the Arctic Council nations of which we are a member.”
China is not part of the Arctic Council, though it was granted “observer” status in 2013. Beijing hopes to use a northern shipping lane that is opening as glaciers melt.
“They want to make sure that they have an opportunity to go over the North Pole and bring their merchant traffic,” Foggo said in an interview with the Washington Examiner and other outlets.
American companies have “no interest” in sailing such a “Polar Silk Road,” Foggo said, because most U.S. vessels are too large to sail in such shallow waters. “We’ve actually looked at this. The Chinese have a host of different varieties of vessels that can transit across the arctic so they want to make sure that they have a stake up there.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson in Washington in January, followed by a trip to Reykjavik for a second meeting last week.
“If America is not engaged, if we pull back, folks will fill the vacuum, and the Russians and the Chinese see that and use every opportunity they can, and we think that presents risk to freedom-loving nations like Iceland and freedom-loving nations like America,” Pompeo said, adding that Russia and China seek “domination and control” in the region.
China has made economic inroads in Iceland and Denmark. It has also projected military force in northern waters, most notably through joint military exercises with Russia in the Baltic Sea in 2017.
“They came there in a way to send a signal to the United States, that when you mess with our allies we mess with yours,” a European official said. But the official added, however, that Russia and China are “not as close as they would like us to believe they are.”
Foggo predicted friction between Beijing and Moscow. “I’m not sure that that particular interest is shared with the Russians,” he said. “We see a lot of activity between the Chinese and the Russians, but the Russians consider the Arctic their domain.
And, it’s really an international domain, and that’s why we’re interested in keeping it free and open.”