‘historic’ agreement on polar research between Japan and Greenland

A delegation that included the head of Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR, 国立極地研究所) and the country’s ambassador to Denmark was last week in Nuuk to sign a ‘historic‘ agreement on increased cooperation on climate science research, expected to be followed by others in the future.

Besides participating in international initiatives such as the NEEM ice core drilling project in the island’s far north (77°N), Japanese research institutions have also launched their own. An ambitious five-year project on Arctic climate change was launched as part of the Kan administration’s green-focused growth strategy in 2010. Among its research topics are the influence of Arctic climate change on the weather and marine ecosystem in Japan (an issue highlighted by NIPR director Shiraishi in Greenland) as well as forecasting sea ice distribution along Arctic shipping routes. The just-launched Arctic Challenge for Sustainability Project (ArCS), whose scope also includes socio-economic effects of climate change, sounds particularly relevant to Greenland. One of the institutions involved is Hokkaido University, representatives of which were indeed part of last week visit.

Chinese, Japanese ambassadors to Iceland meet

Japan’s ambassador to Iceland Mitsuko Shino 志野光子 hosted her Chinese counterpart Zhang Weidong 张卫东 in a courtesy visit two weeks ago.

Both diplomats are recent appointments, in Mr Zhang’s case because his predecessor, Ma ‘Blubbermouth‘ Jisheng 马继生, was defrocked and reportedly detained for spying for Ms Shino’s country.

Singapore’s Greenland Petroleum orders ships from Taiwan

Greenland Petroleum Operations (or ‘Operation’), of Singapore, have ordered four 65k deadweight tonne semisubmerging ships from Taiwanese shipbuilder CSBC (台船), expected to be delivered in 2017. Semisubmersible ships are able to lift large loads, such as other ships or oil rigs.

Greenland Petroleum Operation(s) is partially owned by Chinese businessman Cai Wenxing 蔡文星, an executive director at Falcon Energy. They are not related to either Nuuk-based Greenland Petroleum Services or Japan’s Greenland Petroleum Exploration (GreenPeX, グリーンランド石油開発株式会社).

Iceland China’s ‘reliable friend, partner’: new ambassador

We mark this slow-news day by pointing to a Xinhua article about what Zhang Weidong 张卫东, the newly appointed Chinese ambassador to Iceland, said at a reception in Reykjavík meant to celebrate China’s National Day.

Mr Zhang praised the friendly relations between the two countries and emphasised that Iceland was the first European country to sign a free trade agreement with China, in effect since July 1.

He doesn’t seem to have said much about his predecessor loose lips. Ma ‘Blubbermouth‘ Jisheng 马继生, the previous envoy, is accused of having leaked state secrets to Japan. He worked there for some time under then-ambassador Wang Yi 王毅, who has since become the foreign minister.

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.

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).

Sichuan Road & Bridge in Tanzania

This isn’t particularly recent, but I thought today would be as good a slow news day as any to mention a contract won late last year by Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG, 四川路桥集团) to build 65km of roads in Tanzania. A number of such contracts, mostly funded by the African Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, have been awarded to Chinese companies in Tanzania, first in November and then again in February. Other than SRBG, the contractors include CHICO (中国河南国际合作集团), Powerchina (中国水电建设集团) and CCECC (中国土木工程集团). SRBG’s task will be to pave a road leading up to the (also Chinese-built) Unity Bridge over the Rovuma River, the border with Mozambique.

This was SRBG’s main foreign contract abroad last year, other than the steelwork for the Hålogaland bridge in Narvik, northern Norway.