Iceland welcomes “peaceful, low-tension cooperation” with China in Arctic, says foreign minister

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson at the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland on May 7, 2019. On Friday, Thordarson stressed the importance of the Arctic as a low-tension area of cooperation. (Photo by Vesa Moilanen/AFP via Getty Images)
Iceland says it welcomes Arctic cooperation with China but that multilateral system values need to be protected.

“It’s great to see China take hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and now have a strong middle class,” Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson said on Friday. “They are an economic superpower and it’s understandable that they want to take part in things they haven’t paid much attention to in the past.”

But Thordarson said China’s human rights record continues to be a concern, especially given recent events in places like Hong Kong. 

Since 2013, China has been an observer country on the Arctic Council, an international forum made up of the world’s eight circumpolar nations, including Canada, and the six Arctic Indigenous groups. But China’s Arctic ambitions garnered worldwide attention in 2018 with a policy document that laid out the country’s plans for massive investments and infrastructure projects in the North, establishing a so-called ‘Polar Silk Road.’

It’s also heavily investing in energy projects in the Russian Arctic.

“It’s always a balance,” said Thordarson. “It makes no difference where we are cooperating, we have to protect our values. The multilateral system is based on values we take totally for granted but we shouldn’t take them for granted. It’s very important that at the same time we welcome peaceful low-tension cooperation, more trade, that we stand very firmly on our values and give that signal to all the partners we are working with.“

Thordarson made the comments during a live-streamed Global Business Briefing event organized by the Meridian International Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit diplomacy center, in Washington D.C. 

International cooperation on Arctic climate is key, says FM

During the event Thordarson discussed relations between the U.S. and Iceland and the importance of the U.S. reengaging with the international community on climate change. 

Former U.S. president Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, an accord reached by 197 countries in 2015. Its main goal is to keep global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Current President Joe Biden rejoined the agreement on January 20.

“We welcome the U.S. increased emphasis on addressing the global climate crisis as exemplified by the U.S. reentering into the Paris agreement on climate change,” Thordarson said. “I hope our countries can learn from each other and cooperate on the path to a greener future.”

Iceland wrapping up Arctic Council chairmanship

Iceland currently holds the rotating, two-year Arctic Council chairmanship.

In his remarks, Thordarson also touted Iceland’s success in focusing on oceans and Arctic communities during its chairmanship. He also stressed the importance of the international forum as an ongoing place of cooperation. 

“Arctic affairs are a top priority in Iceland’s foreign policy with the overarching theme of our chairmanship Together towards a sustainable Arctic. This reflects that the future of the Arctic must be embedded in economic prosperity and social wellbeing in a healthy environment. With the well-being of those living in the area in mind.”

Iceland hands chairmanship of the Arctic Council to Russia in May.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada stresses need for cooperation at Arctic Frontiers conference, Radio Canada International

Sweden: Wind power to be expanded to all of Sweden, Radio Sweden

China: China, Russia singled out in new U.S. Arctic defense strategy, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark: Pompeo to talk Arctic at upcoming meeting with Danish Foreign Minister, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Nordics should aim for common approach to China’s Arctic involvement says report, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Increase in NATO scrambled jets from Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Threat of military conflict in the Arctic is ‘relatively low,’ says top Russian diplomat, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden’s FM calls for more EU involvement in Arctic as country hosts EU Arctic Forum, Radio Sweden

United States: New U.S. Arctic strategy focuses on ‘day-to-day competition’ with Russia and China, Eye on the Arctic 

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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