China Wants to Build Greenland Airport That Might Threaten U.S. Military Base, Experts Say

A government-owned Chinese firm has put forward a bid to build a new airport in Greenland, which some analysts fear could threaten a vital U.S. Air Force base located in the country.

Home to only about 56,000 inhabitants, Greenland is a constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark and relies heavily on air travel. As a result, the country's autonomous government is seeking to build a new airport, which will cost an estimated $560 million.

The China Communications Construction Company, which is owned by Beijing's government and was previously blacklisted by the World Bank, has put forward a bid to build the new airport, Defense News reported. Denmark, a close ally of the U.S., has objected to the proposal and maintains a final say on national security issues. But Greenland's local government has pushed back, insisting the Chinese bid receive serious consideration.

Homes are seen against the backdrop of mountains on July 28, 2013, in Nuuk, Greenland. The China Communications Construction Company, which is owned by Beijing’s government and was previously blacklisted by the World Bank, has put forward a bid to build a new airport. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As China seeks greater control of trade routes around the world while expanding its influence in the Arctic region, some experts fear the potential Chinese investment could work to push out the U.S. Air Force's strategic Thule Air Base in Greenland.

"A Chinese presence in Greenland would complicate the U.S. position on the island— ultimately it is not impossible to imagine that China could pressure the Greenlandic government to ask the Americans to leave or demand permission to get a Chinese military or dual-use presence there," Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, an associate professor at the Royal Danish Defence College's Institute for Strategy, told the military publication.

Danish officials are also worried about their constituent country's consideration of the bid. "We are deeply concerned. China has no business in Greenland," a high-ranking government official in Copenhagen told Reuters.

NASA's Operation IceBridge research aircraft (TOP) lands at Thule Air Base on March 24, 2017, in Pituffik, Greenland. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Scandinavian nation has a treaty with the U.S. dating back to 1951, which grants Washington nearly unlimited rights to use Greenland's territory. Although the Danish government exercises control over the island's foreign and security policy, investment from foreign companies is a legal gray zone, according to the news agency. But Copenhagen, at Washington's urging, previously moved in 2016 to block a Chinese firm from purchasing a defunct marine station on the island.

The potential Chinese investment has also led to political tensions within Greenland. On Monday, the country was working to form a new government after the ruling coalition collapsed over disagreements on how to proceed with the airport and other infrastructure projects, Agence France-Presse reported. Naleraq, a left-wing party that seeks independence from Denmark, quit the government in protest over Copenhagen's efforts to participate financially in the project to thwart China.