Home Politics World’s smallest national election is causing superpowers biggest headache

World’s smallest national election is causing superpowers biggest headache


As elections go, it sounds rather minor-league: a contest with just 40,000 voters, triggered by a planning row in one of the most remote, inhospitable corners of the planet.

On Tuesday, though, diplomats from Washington to Beijing will be watching carefully as Greenland holds snap parliamentary polls.

With a total of population of just 56,000, its electorate is smaller than some British town councils – yet their vote over the vexed issue of the Kvanefjeld mine project could have implications not just for Greenland, but the global superpower race.

Overlooking the tiny fishing settlement of Narsaq, where locals live mainly off catching whales and seals, the project aims to tap into one of world’s biggest deposits of “rare earth” minerals – materials as vital to the 21st-century as oil was to the 20th.

Their supermagnetic, superconductive properties are used in everything from i-Phones and solar panels through to hybrid cars and weapons systems.

Yet while they are key to the goals of a high-tech, low-carbon world, extracting them itself can be an environmentally-hazardous process – a point not lost on Greenland’s residents, some of whom are sceptical of promises from the Australian firm behind the project, Greenland Minerals, that strict anti-pollution measures will be enforced.

The country’s ruling Siumut party called Tuesday’s snap polls amid growing rifts over the project, which has already led to rowdy public meetings and police called in to investigate death threats.

“The mine will destroy everything,” said Jens Davidsen, a Narsaq fisherman. “We are afraid dust from the mine will hurt our fishing grounds and drinking water.”

Frontrunners in the election are the Left-wing, pro-green Inuit Ataqatigiit party, who could throw the mine project out altogether, despite warnings from rival parties that Greenland’s isolated economy must end its dependence on fishing.

But for others, the stakes are about much more than even that. Of particular concern is that Greenland Minerals is part-owned by Shenghe Holdings, a Chinese firm with close ties to the Beijing government.

Western diplomats fear that Beijing may be seeking to monopolise Greenland’s rare earth deposits – giving it control over what is fast becoming the world’s most valuable resource.

Such worries are underscored by the fact that Beijing already dominates the rare earth market as it is. More than half of all existing supplies are mined in China, which supplies the European Union with 98 per cent of its needs, and the US with 80 per cent.

With Greenland considered the last great untapped rare earth reserve – estimates run to up to 25 per cent of total resources – it is now the target of a new superpower “scramble”.

Nuuk, Greenland capital few days ago in March

“Whether it’s an Apple Mac or an F35 fighter jet, you can’t make any smart technology without using rare earth minerals,” said Dwayne Menezes, managing director of the Polar Research and Policy Initiative, a London-based international think-tank.



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