America is once again taking aim at China—this time in the Arctic.
That's according to remarks delivered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland Monday. Pompeo, leading a State Department delegation in the Scandinavian country for meetings with the Arctic Council, said in a speech that the North Pole region must be protected from "lawlessness."
The council comprises the U.S., Russia, Finland, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. China has had an observer status since 2013.
The secretary's comments appeared aimed primarily at Russia and China, according to reporting from Politico, with "special emphasis on Chinese behavior."
"Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims?" Pompeo asked the council.
A defense official from U.S. European Command, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Stars and Stripes that they found the threat posed by China to American interests in the Arctic concerning. The official cited Chinese purchases of disused mines in Greenland as part of a push that appears aimed at using economic power to develop access to the North Pole.
"Why is China buying a mine that hasn't been productive in 30 years," the official said. "What is the point in China purchasing that mine?"
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT
Never Miss a Beat.
Get our best delivered to your inbox.
The motivation may be to legitimatize Chinese claims in the Arctic—claims that Pompeo flatly rejected.
"Beijing claims to be a near-Arctic state, yet the shortest distance between China and the Arctic Circle is 900 miles," said Pompeo. "There are only Arctic states and non-Arctic states. No third category exists; and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing."
The Arctic has long been a place of conflict between Russia and the U.S. And as climate change continues to open up the frozen region, military conflicts will become more likely.
Pompeo referenced current tensions between the two superpowers in his speech while discussing America's next steps in the region.
"On the security side, partly in response to Russia's destabilizing activities," said Pompeo, "we are hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, expanding Coast Guard funding, and creating a new senior military post for Arctic Affairs."
Pompeo later met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss a range of issues, including Venezuela.
Watch Pompeo's full speech: