The US will strengthen its Arctic presence to keep in check the "aggressive behaviour" of China and Russia in the resource-rich region, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday.
Speaking ahead of talks in Finland between the eight Arctic states, Mr Pompeo warned that "the region has become an arena of global power and competition" thanks to its vast reserves of oil, gas, minerals and fish stocks.
He denounced attempts by China, which has observer status on the Arctic Council, to style itself as a "near Arctic" state, citing Pentagon fears that China is seeking to establish a permanent security presence in the polar region, including by deploying submarines as a deterrent against nuclear attacks.
"There are only Arctic States and Non-Arctic States. No third category exists, and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing," he said, adding that China’s activities in the region must be closely monitored.
"China’s pattern of aggressive behaviour elsewhere will inform how it treats the Arctic," he said. Mr Pompeo also slammed Russian territorial claims on new, faster trade routes opening up through the region due to melting sea ice.
Arctic sea ice level
"In the Northern Sea Route, Moscow already illegally demands that other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply," Mr Pompeo said.
"These provocative actions are part of a pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour in the Arctic."
Mr Pompeo said the US would strengthen its security and diplomatic presence in the Arctic, in part through military exercises, an increased military presence, and by rebuilding the US’s icebreaker fleet.
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"Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness," he said.
Russia has previously insisted that Moscow’s drive for military and economic development in the Arctic is not a threat to other countries.
"We are not doing anything else besides ensuring security of the country. All we’re doing in the Arctic is geared toward this and only this. We are not threatening anyone," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at an Arctic forum in St Petersburg last month.
Mr Pompeo will continue his European tour with visits to Britain, Germany and Greenland.
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