S’pore FM meets Aleqa

Singaporean foreign minister K. Shanmugam met with Greenland’s PM Aleqa Hammond last week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (S’pore MFA, Lianhe Zaobao). Ms Hammond spoke “positively” of Singapore’s “contributions to Arctic affairs” as Arctic Council permanent observer, which it has been since 2013.

Back in Greenland, Hammond is facing accusations she spent some $18k from public funds to pay for private expenses for her and family members. She’s now saying she wants to take leave from office.

I haven’t written anything about Singapore and the Arctic, but others have, e.g. Aki Tonami and Mia Bennett.

replacement found for ambassador who ‘spied for Japan’

The post of Chinese ambassador to Iceland, vacant since its previous holder, Ma Jisheng 马继生, left for China last January and was allegedly detained there under suspicion of providing state secrets to Japan, has now been filled. The new ambassador, Zhang Weidong 张卫东, has previously worked in Canada and the Federated States of Micronesia, a US associated state. There’s no indication that he spied for anyone while there.

Ma Jisheng, who once worked with current foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei 洪磊, allegedly gave classified information to Japan while working there under Wang Yi 王毅, then ambassador in Tokyo and now foreign minister.

Zhang arrived in Reykjavík on the 25th and had his first public appearance at a cultural event organised by the Confucius institute.

I’ve written on Ma Jisheng’s case already, ten days ago.

Hålogaland bridge and its discontents

Tomas Norvoll, chairman of the county council of Nordland, where Sichuan Road and Bridge (四川路桥) is building the steelwork for a large suspension bridge, accuses Norwegian authorities of “double standards” when it comes to environmental requirements put on state suppliers.

Norwegian steelmakers, he complained last week on NRK, must adhere to tougher standards that make them less competitive than companies from less environment-friendly jurisdictions. “The paradox is that, when the state or we at the county municipality buy steel to build for example bridges or roads, there’s no requirement that the steel should be as environment-friendly as possible.”

Statens vegvesen, Norway’s public road administration, responded to the NRK story emphasising that less than 60% of the steel used in Hålogaland bridge will come from China. The rest, used as concrete reinforcement, is being supplied by a Norwegian steelmaker part of Spanish group CELSA.

Sichuan Road and Bridge, owned by Sichuan province, partnered in October last year with a company connected to Germany’s DSD Steel to win the Hålogaland steelwork tender. They quoted just 2.5% less money than the next cheapest contender, MT Høygaard from Denmark.

I’ve written about Sichuan Road and Bridge’s background in a longish article a few months ago.

Hålogaland bridge contractor official under investigation

Huang Jinping 黄金平, until recently a vice-general manager at Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG, 四川路桥集团), is being investigated for ‘serious discipline violations’, which usually means corruption, Chinese state media report.

SRBG is building the steelwork for the Hålogaland bridge in Norway, together with a Serbian company connected to Germany’s DSD Steel.

I mentioned Mr Huang last year when writing about SRBG’s background. Besides his position at SRBG, Huang used to be the chairman of a related company, Chuanjiao Road and Bridge (四川川交路桥有限责任公司), with a less stellar record: a section of a bridge they were building in Ziyang, Sichuan, collapsed last year during construction, causing at least two deaths.

Chinese ambassador to Iceland accused of spying for Japan

News that China’s ambassador to Iceland Ma Jisheng 马继生 and his wife Zhong Yue 钟月 have been detained under suspicion of spying for Japan, first released by Hong Kong and overseas Chinese media and then more or less censored on the Chinese Internet, have now got something just short of a confirmation, in the form of an editorial in China’s state-run most firebrand tabloid, the Global Times. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei 洪磊 is still denying knowing anything about the case.

The spokesman and the disgraced ambassador surely know each other well: they used to be colleagues as vice-directors (副司长) of the Ministry’s information department. Ma Jisheng’s name should also be familiar to the foreign minister, Wang Yi 王毅, as the alleged leaks to Tokyo might well have occurred while Ma served there under Wang, then China’s envoy to Japan.

Such an indication that the spying went right under the current minister’s nose could have been just one more reason to remove Ma’s bio from his embassy’s website once Icelandic media had begun to worry about his absence. The Mas had not returned from their trip to China for Chinese New Year in late January, and Icelandic authorities were at some point notified he was away ‘for personal reasons’ and wasn’t going to come back.

Anyway, Ma’s bio is now up for everyone to read on the People’s Daily‘s website. This and the aforementioned editorial on the Global Times basically amounts to an official admission that the ‘personal reasons’ had less to do with a ‘sick relative‘ than with passing information to Japan, just in the middle of the latest anti-Japanese propaganda campaign.

Affectionately known as the Globule Times, the press organ that carried the editorial on Ma’s mischiefs has a reputation for printing the sort of nationalistic rhetoric more staid Party outlets like the People’s Daily usually tend to avoid. In its columns, Australian foreign minister Julia Bishop has been called a ‘complete fool‘; multiple countries have been warned to ‘prepare for the sound of cannons‘. The writing in its English version goes through the hands of a team of proofreaders, but these aren’t allowed to intervene too much into articles on sensitive topics. Language awkwardness can be taken as an indicator of how high a given article is coming from. The editorial on Ma (‘Be wary of espionage trap surrounding us’) closes thus:

If it is confirmed that Ma has been caught, we hope that his story will one day appear on media to serve as a warning for others.

Japanese media (Kyōdō through Mainichi) also report that another man who served with Ma in Tokyo is also missing since April and could also be under investigation on similar charges.

Nick Nielsen in Japan: Fuji vs. Gunnbjørn

Right after finishing a visit to China, Nick Nielsen, Greenland’s education minister, crossed over to Japan. He attended the opening of an exhibition on Greenland at the Minpaku, the National Museum of Ethnology (国立民族学博物館) in Osaka.

Just as he had visited the PRIC, China’s polar research institute, a week earlier, in Tokyo he was at its Japanese counterpart, the NIPR or National Institute of Polar Research (国立極地研究所), where he heard about Japanese research on the Greenlandic ice cap, that has been going on since the 90s.

Nielsen also met with politicians, among them Tadahiko Itō 伊藤忠彦, whose recent visit to Greenland as Vice-Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications (総務大臣政務官), the first from a Japanese official of that rank, had been read by Greenland PM Aleqa Hammond as showing “a decision by the Japanese government to cooperate with Greenland at a wholly new level“.

The topic of mountaineering came up during a dinner with Diet member Tarō Kōno 河野太郎 (Nielsen has climbed both Mt Everest and K2). Gunnbjørn Fjeld, the tallest mountain in Greenland, was apparently claimed to be “one metre taller than Mt Fuji” (the established wisdom seems to be that Mt Fuji is actually some 70m taller).

Greenland minister in China

Greenlandic minister Nick Nielsen, whose portfolio includes education and culture, was in China last week.

In Shanghai, he paid a visit to the PRIC (the Polar Research Institute of China (中国极地研究中心), that is), where he discussed plans for scientific cooperation, arranged a meeting next month in Shanghai on ‘Greenland maritime navigation’ and future visits to Greenland by the Xuelong 雪龙, China’s icebreaker. He also had a videochat with Zhongshan 中山 station in Antarctica.

Perhaps more importantly, Nielsen was also in Beijing, where he dropped by Liu Cigui 刘赐贵, director of the State Ocean Administration (国家海洋局). There he expressed interest in a ‘cooperation agreement’ between the two countries, which he expects could be signed next year.

From there he went on to Japan, more on which in a separate post to come.

Svalbard plot: gov’t hopes to buy soon

Norwegian minister of trade and industry Monica Mæland, who today started her first visit to Svalbard, told Svalbardposten she hopes her government will soon be able to purchase Austre Adventfjord, a privately owned 200 km2 plot put on sale a few months ago. The owners, the Horn family, are involved in a dispute with Store Norske, Norway’s state-owned coal miner on Svalbard, and say they only decided to look for a private buyer when negotiations with the government failed. The possibility of that chunk of Svalbard ending up in foreign hands (citizens of all Svalbard treaty signatories can own property on the islands) has unnerved some in Norway and might motivate part of the government’s interest in buying it themselves.

One Svalbard treaty signatory is China, and at a point Norwegian broadcaster NRK aired an interview with Chinese real-estate tycoon Huang Nubo about his interest in purchasing Austre Adventfjord. After the Horns categorically rejected having had any contact with Huang, the interview was referred to a misunderstanding NRK blames on Huang.

More on Austre Adventfjord here.