Rovaniemi, FINLAND -- Speaking at the kick off of the 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council Monday afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russia and China against taking aggressive action in the newly developing region. The two countries are working together against U.S. interests and other members of the Council.
"China has observer status in the Arctic Council, but that status is contingent upon its respect for the sovereign rights of Arctic states. The U.S. wants China to meet that condition and contribute responsibly in the region. But China’s words and actions raise doubts about its intentions," Pompeo said. "Just last month, Russia announced plans to connect the Northern Sea Route with China’s Maritime “Silk Road,” which would develop a new shipping channel from Asia to northern Europe. Meanwhile, China is already developing shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean."
"This is all part of a familiar pattern: Beijing attempts to develop critical infrastructure using Chinese money, Chinese companies, and Chinese workers—in some cases, to establish a permanent Chinese security presence," he continued. "The Pentagon warned just last week that China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence, including by deploying submarines to the region as a deterrent against nuclear attacks. We need to examine these activities closely, and keep the experience of other nations in mind.China’s pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere will inform how it treats the Arctic."
Chinese Commerce Ministry Spokesperson Gao Feng disputed Pompeo's classification of the country's actions, telling reporters the moves are being made for the "betterment of the world."
"He said that it is a new time, a competition of powers. Okay, competition lets see who can get more friends," Feng told reporters, saying there's no evidence China doesn't play fair. "We believe that it is common good for the world, those people joining the Belt-and-Road initiative."
Pompeo also expressed particular concern about Russia's behavior in the region and urged the Arctic Council, of which Russia is a member, to take notice.
"Russia’s actions deserve the special attention of this Council, in part because of their sheer scale. But also because we know Russian territorial ambitions can turn violent. 13,000 people have been killed due to Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine," Pompeo said. "Just because the Artic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. As I said a speech in Santiago just a few weeks ago, American leadership stands in stark contrast to the Chinese and Russian models."
As easier navigation through the Arctic continues to grow, with significant oil reserves still untapped, the United States and other members of the Arctic Council have a vested interest in keeping the region free of conflict.
"All parties in the marketplace have to play by the rules. Those who violate the rule of law should lose their right to participate in the marketplace," Pompeo said.