STATE DEPARTMENT - Aimed at countering China and Russia's expansion in the Arctic, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday the United States will increase its military presence in the polar region.
"We are hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, expanding Coast Guard funding, and creating a new senior military post for Arctic Affairs inside our own military," said Pompeo after arriving in Rovaniemi, Finland, for a meeting of the Arctic Council.
"The region has become an area of global power and competition," he said.
The top U.S. diplomat's warning comes days after a Pentagon report said China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence.
In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang pushed back Monday, saying China has been adhering to the path of "peaceful development" and asked the United States to abandon "the outdated concept of Cold War mentality and the zero-sum game."
With the steady reductions in sea ice in the polar region, new naval passageways and trade opportunities are seen to be opening up.
Last month, Russia announced plans to connect the Northern Sea Route with China's Maritime "Silk Road," a move seen as developing a new shipping channel from Asia to northern Europe.
Meanwhile, China's interest in the Arctic has been on the rise in recent years.
Beijing's Arctic policy says "China hopes to work with all parties to build a Polar Silk Road through developing the Arctic shipping routes."
Sounding the alarm on China's ambition, Pompeo rejected interference by non-Arctic countries in the polar region.
"There are only Arctic States and non-Arctic States. No third category exists," said Pompeo during his speech in Finland Monday.
The Arctic Council consists of the eight Arctic states: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
Chinese officials attending the Arctic Council meeting as observers said China is a “near-Arctic state,” a definition refuted by the U.S.
“I have no earthly idea what they mean when they say they’re a near-Arctic country. Perhaps they can provide a definition,” Pompeo told the media later on Monday.
Some experts said a competitive U.S. military posture for the Arctic should also come with diplomatic engagement with the Arctic nations.
“The increasingly challenged global commons require not just able U.S. military capacity, but a diplomatic strategy to find a balance of interests and new norms, rules and codes of conduct,” Atlantic Council’s senior fellow Robert Manning told VOA on Monday.
Chinese officials said Beijing’s investments in the Arctic region, seen as an extension of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, are “open, inclusive and transparent.”
But U.S. officials argued China’s Belt and Road Initiative is about “using government power to achieve national security objectives.”
“The United States and Arctic nations welcome transparent Chinese investment that reflects economic interests, not national security ambitions,” said Pompeo.
Military officials from Russia and China said both countries intended to regularly conduct joint war games, following last September's massive Vostok (East) 2018 military exercises that spanned extensive regions of Siberia, Russia's Far East, the Arctic, and the Pacific Oceans. China was invited for the first time to join the drill.
In May of 2013, China became an "observer state" of the Arctic Council with the help of Iceland. Last year, a China-Iceland joint Arctic Research Observatory was established in Karholl, Iceland.
The Arctic houses 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, and an abundance of resources, including uranium, rare earth minerals, and millions of square miles of untapped fisheries.