The head of diplomacy in the United States, Anthony Blinken, left yesterday for a trip focused on the future of the Arctic, a source of growing tension with China and a test of the strained relations between Washington and Russia, ahead of a possible Biden Putin summit.
Blinken heads first to Copenhagen, where he will meet Danish leaders today before traveling to Iceland to attend an eight-nation Arctic Council ministerial meeting on Wednesday and Thursday.
In Reykjavik, attention will turn to a meeting between Blinkin and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, the first high-level meeting between the two powers since Joe Biden took office in January.
The Arctic, a vast region of harsh and unfavorable conditions, has in recent years become the scene of a geopolitical competition between the countries that make up the Arctic Council (the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland).
As global warming makes this area more accessible and less imposing, interest in its natural resources, shipping lanes, and strategic location increases.
Much to Washington’s chagrin, the Arctic is also coveted by China, which only enjoys “observer” status in the council, but has positioned itself as a “quasi-polar” power.
During Donald Trump’s presidency, the United States rejected what it considered “aggression” by Russia and China in the region. Now, the Biden administration appears determined to continue to consolidate its stake in the region.
“We are not saying no to all Chinese activities or Chinese investments, but we insist on adhering to international rules and adhering to high standards,” James Dehart, the US coordinator for the Arctic, said in a meeting with reporters recently.
He added that some Chinese activities cause “concern” in the United States.
Perhaps Blinken’s most important task is to turn the page on the controversy inherited from Trump, who claimed that the United States could buy Greenland, with its vast Arctic lands, from Denmark, leading to the refusal.