Greenland lawmakers will consider opening an East Asia office

China is the most likely location for Greenland's next envoy, but the office would also represent the country in Japan and South Korea.

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Former Greenlandic commerce minister Hans Enkosen (left) poses with Wu Junxi of the Beijing Construction Engineering Group, one of the world’s largest airport construction firms, in 2017. The meeting was part of a series of discussions with banks and construction firms as Greenland sought to attract investment in its plans to build new airports. (Naalakkersuisut)

Greenland’s long-discussed plans of establishing a diplomatic presence in China will be taken up by legislators in Nuuk during the spring session of Inatsisartut, the national assembly, when they will be asked to debate whether a “representative office” — a de facto embassy — should be opened in East Asia, according to a statement issued by Naalakkersuisuit, the government, March 10.

Greenland’s interest in establishing diplomatic ties with China, Japan and Korea was laid out last May in the government’s annual foreign policy review. At that time, it said it hoped to open an office in Beijing in 2020 that would promote its commercial, political and cultural ties with the three countries, all of which are observers to the Arctic Council and have well-developed plans for their involvement in the region.

“The representative office would also have as one its daily tasks to contribute to promoting and marketing potential Asian investment in Greenland,” the review said.

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Greenland is interested in developing trade agreements with Asian countries, primarily concerning the export of fish, which makes up the vast majority of the its economic activity, but an Asian office would also work to promote mining opportunities and tourism — two other pillars Nuuk hopes can form the basis of an economy independent from Copenhagen — as well as water and ice exports.

“Our trade relations with the main Asian export markets of Japan, China and South Korea are experiencing continuous growth. This has created a particular need for a Greenlandic visibility and presence in Asia,” Ane Lone Bagger, the foreign minister, said in 2018 after the opening of the country’s office in Reykjavík, its third, and most recent, office abroad.

In addition to an office in Copenhagen that looks after the interests of Greenland in the Danish capital, Greenland has envoys in Brussels and Washington that represent the country in issues relating to powers that have been devolved from Copenhagen to Nuuk (the Washington office also represents Greenland in Ottawa).

The Faroe Islands, the third of the three countries that form the Kingdom of Denmark, has the same permission, and last year established its own office in Beijing, its sixth office abroad.

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China first came up as a possible site for a Greenlandic representative office in 2014. The idea received new life in 2017, in connection with a visit there by Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s premier, and other high-level officials, to discuss trade and economic ties. But it has since remained on the back burner while Reykjavík office was being stood up.

While it will be up to Inatsisartut whether to proceed with an Asian office, any decision must be worked out with the Danish Foreign Ministry, which is ultimately responsible for the entire of Kingdom of Denmark abroad.

Nuuk is currently sealed off from the rest of the country in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. As a result, Inatsisartut’s planned April 17 opening will be postponed by at least a month.

*This article initially stated that no announcement had been made about how measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus would affect the spring session of Inatsisartut.