Greenland: Trump warned that island cannot be bought from Denmark

Greenland has said it is “not for sale” following reports that US President Donald Trump has spoken about buying the world’s biggest island.

The president is said to have discussed the idea of purchasing Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, during dinners and meetings with advisers.

But Greenland’s foreign ministry dismissed the idea, saying: “We’re open for business, not for sale.”

Mr Trump’s reported plans have also been quickly dismissed by politicians in Denmark. “It must be an April Fool’s Day joke…but totally out of [season]!”, tweeted former Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which first reported the news, said Mr Trump had spoken about the purchase with “varying degrees of seriousness”.

Sources quoted in other media differed over whether the president was joking or seriously hoping to expand US territory.

The White House has not commented on the reports.

Where is Greenland?

Greenland is the largest island in the world (after Australia, which is defined as a continent in its own right). It is an autonomous Danish territory, located between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

Map of Greenland

It has a population of about 56,000 people concentrated around the coastline. Almost 90% are indigenous Greenlandic Inuit people. It has a limited self-government and its own parliament.

More than 80% of the island is covered by an ice cap. Global warming is feared to be causing the ice cover to melt increasingly quickly but has also increased access to its mineral resources.

Greenland Premier Kim Kielsen has not commented publicly on the reports about Mr Trump.

Why would it be appealing to Trump?

Mr Trump has reportedly taken an interest in Greenland, in part, because of its natural resources, such as coal, zinc, copper and iron ore.

But while Greenland might be rich in minerals, it currently relies on Denmark for two thirds of its budget revenue. It has high rates of suicide, alcoholism and unemployment.

US President Donald Trump walks off stage after a "Keep America Great" campaign rally at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, on August 15, 2019.
Image captionReports differ over whether Mr Trump was serious about trying to purchase Greenland

Two people briefed on the discussions told the New York Times the president was also interested in Greenland’s “national security value” because of its location.

The US has long seen the island as being strategically important and established a radar base there at the start of the Cold War.

Republican Representative Mike Gallagher described Mr Trump’s reported idea as a “smart geopolitical move”.

“The United States has a compelling strategic interest in Greenland, and this should absolutely be on the table,” he tweeted.

Is Greenland up for sale?

As Greenland’s foreign ministry pointed out, the island is not on the market.

“Greenland is rich in valuable resources such as minerals, the purest water and ice, fish stocks, seafood, renewable energy and is a new frontier for adventure tourism. We’re open for business, not for sale,” it said in a statement shared on social media.

Greenland MP Aaja Chemnitz Larsen also dismissed the president’s reported interest.

“No thanks to Trump buying Greenland!”, she wrote on Twitter, adding that a “better and more equal partnership with Denmark” was the way forward.

Politicians in Denmark have ridiculed the idea of a possible US acquisition.

“If he is truly contemplating this, then this is final proof, that he has gone mad,” foreign affairs spokesman for the populist Danish People’s Party, Soren Espersen, told national broadcaster DR.

“The thought of Denmark selling 50,000 citizens to the United States is completely ridiculous.”

“Out of all things that are not going to happen, this is the most unlikely. Forget it,” Danish Conservative MP Rasmus Jarlov wrote on Twitter.

The WSJ reported that it was “unclear” how the US would go about acquiring Greenland if Mr Trump was serious.

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who took office earlier this year, has not commented on the reports.

She is set to visit Greenland this month and has said she is “very much looking forward” to it.

Mr Trump is scheduled to visit Denmark in September but there is no indication that the possible acquisition of Greenland is on the agenda.

Can countries buy territories?

Historically, countries have acquired territory not only through military conquest but also financial deals.

Under the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the US acquired about 827,000 sq miles (2.1m sq km) of land from France for $15m (£12.3). In 1867, the US reached a deal with Russia to purchase Alaska for $7.2m.

The US later purchased the Danish West Indies in 1917 and renamed them the US Virgin Islands.

However, law professor Joseph Blocher wrote in 2012 that the “market for sovereign territory seems to have dried up”.

“To be sure, there is still an active market for proprietary interests in public land… But borders – sovereign territory, rather than property – do not seem to be for sale.”

“Sovereign territory was bought and sold throughout much of American history… But no such market currently exists,” he wrote in his paper Selling State Borders.

Has the US ever tried to buy Greenland before?

Mr Trump is not the only US president to have had a reported interest in buying Greenland.

In 1946, Harry Truman offered Denmark $100m for the territory.

He had earlier toyed with the idea of swapping land in Alaska for strategic parts of Greenland, according to AP.

Source: BBC

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