Last week, China acquired nearly 13% of Norwegian Air. This week, Norwegian leadership can’t agree on whether the People’s Republic poses a threat.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg singled out Russia and China for their aggressive position in the Arctic this April. PM Solberg denounced the two, saying they “do not see the value of…democracy, rule of law, nor…undisputed rights.” Her Defense Minister agreed, and outlined plans for an eight-year military spending increase amounting to $1.7 billion.
“These [China and Russia] are countries where the authorities do not see the value of neither democracy, rule of law, nor the fact that people have undisputed rights… Over the last years, these forces have become increasingly visible and gained more influence.”Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in April, 2020
However, State Secretary Audun Halvorsen of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs pushed back against Solberg’s China policy this week. Responding to US State Department warnings about increased Sino-Russian cooperation in the North Sea, Halvorsen said Norway does not “perceive China to be a threat.” Halverson has a habit of minimizing China’s ambitions. Last year, he tamped down American concerns over the Chinese state’s involvement in Kirkenes, a strategic Northeast Passage port town.
Last May, Kirkenes welcomed ambassadors from the world’s largest port infrastructure developer. That developer is the state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). A successful CCCC bid for Kirkenes’ port infrastructure project means a CCP foothold in the High North.
With a Kirkenes port, China’s ease of access to the Arctic increases significantly. A permanent CCP presence along the Northeast Passage means more power projection, more investment, and more influence. All to the detriment of Norwegian interests.
Norway needs a coherent policy about Chinese intervention in the Arctic
Once Norway allows the People’s Republic in, there’s no going back. Secretary Halvorsen said China has “so far played a constructive role” – ‘so far’ being an important qualifier. If Kirkenes becomes flush with CCP cash, Norway would pay a political price for any future action against them.
Norway needs a unified China policy to safeguard itself in an increasingly competitive Arctic. Halvorsen himself called for “unified Norwegian policy in the High North”, despite contradicting his own Prime Minister. PM Solberg is right. Norwegian sovereignty depends on fortified defense, NATO cooperation, and a frank acknowledgment of the CCP threat.