BERLIN — President Trump faced a fierce European backlash to his reported interest in acquiring Greenland from Denmark on Friday, as some lawmakers compared the idea to colonialism.
“The whole idea that another country could buy Greenland — like it should be a colony — is so strange to us,” said Michael Aastrup Jensen, a member of parliament with the influential center-right Venstre party.
Another member of his party, former center-right Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, chimed in on Twitter, writing: “It must be an April Fool’s Day joke.”
“The Greenlandic people have their own rights,” Martin Lidegaard, the chairman of the Danish parliament’s foreign policy committee and former foreign minister told The Washington Post. “I hope it is a joke — to not just buy a country but also its people.”
Speaking to Reuters, Greenland’s Foreign Minister Ane Lone Bagger said: “We are open for business, but we’re not for sale.”
Greenland’s fewer than 60,000 residents — spread out across roughly 840,000 square miles — mostly govern themselves, even though they are part of the kingdom of Denmark. Melting ice could uncover offshore oil resources. But Greenland has also long been of interest to U.S. governments because of its location between the Arctic and the Atlantic oceans, where both China and Russia are increasingly active militarily.
As Denmark is preparing for Trump’s visit to their capital Copenhagen early next month, reports that he has pushed top aides to investigate whether the U.S. government can purchase the remote island triggered an immediate and fierce response in the country.
Even though Trump is not the first U.S. president to extend such an offer — the Truman administration reportedly offered Denmark $100 million for its purchase after World War II — Danes appeared shocked on Friday that the same suggestion could still come up in 2019.
As Greenlanders were still asleep, Danish politicians from across the spectrum reacted with bewilderment, ridicule and outright anger over what they perceived to be a deeply inappropriate suggestion.
Trump’s interest in acquiring the massive island — technically located in North America but culturally and politically tied to Europe — was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday evening.
The Danish Foreign Ministry and Greenland Premier’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The United States has long had a military footprint in Greenland due to its strategic location in the Arctic. After the end of the Cold War, its significance faded. But recent efforts by China and Russia to expand their foothold in the region triggered a policy shift under the Obama administration toward a once again more active U.S. role there.
Damien Degeorges, a Reykjavík-based consultant specializing in Greenlandic affairs, countered that Trump’s interest in Greenland in general was not per se negative. The idea to acquire Greenland, he said, could also be read as: “Let’s buy it before the Chinese do.”
“What Greenland wants is money from investments, to develop their economy,” said Degeorges, cautioning that so far Europe and the United States had not shown as much interest as China.
“I would not take it literally,” he said of Trump’s reported remarks.
In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that “we’re entering a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats to the Arctic and its real estate, and to all of our interests in the region.” When Beijing attempted to recently fund infrastructure projects in Greenland, the U.S. government voiced concerns.
But Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, the former head of the Strategy and Policy Office in the Danish Ministry of Defense, warned that Trump — if serious about the idea of purchasing the island — was risking to undo years of U.S. efforts in Greenland.
The United States had so far smartly positioned itself between Denmark and Greenland, where some have advocated for full independence, said Rasmussen. Mistaking the territory’s independence movement as an opportunity to purchase it, however, would be a misunderstanding of the underlying motives.
“Greenlanders imagine themselves as independent people,” said Rasmussen, cautioning that citizens’ interest in obtaining a status “like Puerto Rico” was unlikely.
The key question now, he said, was whether Trump tasking his advisers to look into purchasing the island was in fact a real change in U.S. strategy. That strategy has so far been more focused on upholding its military footprint in Greenland, while refraining from getting into the political crossfire between Denmark and Greenland.
“If you start treating Greenland as real estate without asking the people, then that strategy is in serious trouble,” said Rasmussen.
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