Greenland to Trump: We are not for sale

Snow-covered mountains surrounding the harbour and town of Tasiilaq, Greenland. A New York Times report on Thursday said that US President Donald Trump had repeatedly asked about the possibility of buying Greenland for its natural wealth and security
Snow-covered mountains surrounding the harbour and town of Tasiilaq, Greenland. A New York Times report on Thursday said that US President Donald Trump had repeatedly asked about the possibility of buying Greenland for its natural wealth and security value. The idea has been met with anger and disbelief by residents of the semi-autonomous Danish territory. PHOTO: REUTERS

COPENHAGEN • United States President Donald Trump's idea to possibly buy Greenland for its natural resources left residents of the semi-autonomous Danish territory amused, apoplectic and in disbelief, and received a chilly reception in Denmark on Friday.

"I hope it's a joke, because it's a terrible and grotesque thought," said Mr Martin Lidegaard, chairman of Denmark's Foreign Policy Committee.

"It must be an April Fool's Day joke… but totally out of season," Mr Lars Lokke Rasmussen, a former prime minister of Denmark and the leader of the opposition, posted on Twitter.

The idea first sprang up last year, according to a New York Times report on Thursday, when Mr Trump joked about buying Greenland for its natural wealth during a meeting in the Oval Office.

Citing people familiar with his thinking, the report said the President had repeatedly returned to the possibility, adding that the country, which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, also appeals to him because its location in the North Atlantic has security value.

His advisers were highly sceptical that a purchase of the world's largest island could ever happen, but they agreed to investigate the possibility.

"Greenland is not for sale and cannot be sold, but Greenland is open for trade and cooperation with other countries - including the United States," Mr Kim Kielsen, Greenland's prime minister, said in a statement, according to the Ritzau news agency.

The report is likely to add a previously unexpected element to Mr Trump's planned state visit in less than three weeks to Denmark to meet Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Queen Margrethe II and the leaders of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Greenland and the Arctic are high on the agenda.

Greenland, a nation of 56,000, has a shared history with Denmark since the first Vikings settled there a millennium ago.

The speculation is that Mr Trump, a former real estate developer, was keen on Greenland because he tends to see the world through a prism of acquisitions.

And Greenland, located among both friendly and hostile neighbours, has everything a real estate investor could desire in terms of fresh air, direct access to the sea, an abundance of shrimp, cod and halibut, and a backyard rich in lucrative minerals.

Nearby international sea routes allow for quick passage to all corners of the globe - when the ice permits.

 

But the island's population may see little to gain from exchanging the Danish queen as their head of state with an American president who has angered traditional allies by disparaging Nato and pulling the US out of long-held treaties like the Paris climate accord.

In recent years, the Danish government has asserted its influence over Greenland to block Chinese investments, out of concern for potential Greenlandic dependence on China.

The Danish involvement has caused friction with Greenlandic leaders, who have denounced it as neocolonialism.

Although Greenland now has its own government with vast autonomy, its foreign and defence policies originate in Copenhagen, the Danish capital, as does part of its budget: Greenland receives US$740 million (S$1.02 billion) annually from Denmark.

Though Mr Trump's buyer's interest may have little foundation in reality, it does point to a sensitive spot in Greenland's quest for independence.

Ms Aki-Matilda Hoegh-Dam, a Member of the Danish Parliament elected in Greenland, said: "It's important for us to point out that selling Greenland is not an option. Nobody can sell a country like that. Denmark doesn't own Greenland and you can't sell something you don't own."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 18, 2019, with the headline 'Greenland to Trump: We are not for sale'. Print Edition | Subscribe