Profound environmental changes in the Arctic are creating new possibilities for economic activity in the area. This is most strongly felt in Greenland, which with its vast potential reserves of oil, gas, industrial minerals, and unique tourist attractions, is fast becoming a hot spot for foreign investors.
Kuupik Kleist, prime minister of the autonomous island, said he expects foreign investors, including those from China, to play an important role in Greenland's future development.
"I think that China together with other nations is taking a huge interest in the Arctic area in general and specifically in Greenland, and we have seen quite a number of visitors from China over the last couple of years," Kleist told Xinhua in an interview Thursday.
"We don't really have that much cooperation for the time being, but I know that Chinese companies are showing a rising interest in Greenland," he said.
While Chinese tourists are already braving the Arctic's icebergs and freezing temperatures to experience its harsh beauty, deeper financial cooperation is also underway.
"Greenland is also showing an interest in China: My minister for minerals, industry and labor is going to China this day on an official visit. I would see a future cooperation as a very positive one, and we welcome the Chinese interest," he said.
Located high up in the Arctic Circle, Greenland, as the world's biggest island, is an autonomously governed territory of Denmark. Since gaining self-government in 2009, Greenland and its parliament can independently invite foreign investors to participate in its future development, where the prospects are hugely tempting.
The Arctic is thought to contain roughly 30 percent of the world's unproven gas reserves and 10 percent of its unproven oil reserves. An estimated 97 percent of these resources fall within the exclusive economic zones of the five Arctic states that have a coastline on the Arctic Ocean, namely Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark (including Greenland).
Already, foreign oil and gas companies are prospecting in the deep ocean waters off Greenland's west coast, while mining companies are hunting for rare earth minerals in its vast hinterland. These activities raise hopes for Greenland to experience high economic growth rates in the coming years, as well as economic and possibly political self-domination.
"We are a society in transition in many ways, and at a high speed," Kleist said. "Our place on the global stage is changing fast, partly due to climate change and partly owing to the international companies interested in Greenland's minerals."
But cooperation in other areas, such as communications technology and green growth, is also expected.
"We are actually working on a plan for which areas we would consider be covered by foreign investors," Kleist said. "So far, foreign investments have been in the business of minerals and oil and gas."
"But we would like to see economic cooperation in other areas. Green growth, for instance, is a very actual and timely issue, and Greenland of course wants to participate in the development of green technology, and we want to see green growth in Greenland itself," Kleist said.
While the accelerated warming of the polar ice caps is making it easier to access minerals deep under Greenland's permafrost, it is also making it experience a milder climate. With its high-quality and largely unspoilt soils, this could help make Greenland an agricultural bread basket.
"A quite new area for development in Greenland, due to climate change, is that agricultural development is now becoming an area of business," Kleist said.
For a start, this would mean Greenland could grow its own food and its roughly 59,000 residents do not have to rely almost exclusively on imported foodstuffs, as they tend to do now. It would also make the economy far less dependent on fishing, currently the main industry. In the future, agriculture could even become an export commodity.
While the focus is mostly on commercial activity, other areas of cooperation are also expected to ripen in the future.