Greenland’s Kalaallit Airports, a company set up by the self-governing territory to develop three new facilities, has shortlisted a Chinese construction company for the work despite concerns in Copenhagen that the US government might object.
Kalaallit Airports said in a statement that China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) had been chosen from the 11 companies that expressed an interest, along with five other companies or consortiums from the Netherlands, Canada, Iceland and Denmark.
The company said the shortlisting had been carried out on economic and technical criteria, and geopolitics had not been factored in.
The US has a large air base and radar monitoring station at Thule.
Chinese companies were on a previous list of 11 potential bidders for three airport projects on the island, which lacks integrated transport infrastructure between its 17 towns. Together the projects are worth $420m.
The tender is being organised by Kalaallit Airports, a state-owned company set up to build, own and operate airports in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, and the tourist destinations of Ilulissat and Qaqortoq in the south of the country.
At the end of last year Kim Kielsen, Greenland’s prime minister, visited Beijing and met representatives of China Communications Construction and the Beijing Construction Engineering Group as well as the Export-Import Bank of China.
China is interested in the Arctic Ocean. In January it published plans to develop a "Polar Silk Road" to halve sailing time between Asia and Europe. The route has been made feasible by the retreat of Arctic sea ice, but as yet there are few ports available to sustain the route.
A high-ranking Danish government official in Copenhagen told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that the government was "deeply concerned". He said: "China has no business in Greenland. Denmark has a big responsibility to live up to with regards to our closest ally, the US."
Although Greenland’s government controls most domestic matters, foreign and security policy is handled by Copenhagen. Foreign investment in infrastructure is a grey zone, but if China is involved, Copenhagen can veto a possible deal, according to Reuters’ source.
Greenland has little transport infrastructure for its 56,000 people and limited resources to fund construction. At present it has no roads between its 17 towns and only one airport, at Kangerlussuaq in the west of the country.
Its government sees China as a source of capital to build connections, inaugurate direct flights to Europe and boost the island’s tourist industry and trade.
Work on the airports is due to begin in October.
Image: The US Air Force’s Thule airbase (USAF)