WASHINGTON (CN) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a frosty warning to China and Russia on Monday, urging allies to be wary of the two countries’ activities in the Arctic region.
“Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness,” Pompeo said in a speech in Rovaniemi, Finland.
Pompeo made the remarks while in the country for a meeting of the Arctic Council, an international organization of eight countries with territory in the Arctic Circle.
In the speech, Pompeo highlighted the strategic and environmental importance of the Arctic, calling it a critical ground for energy production and scientific exploration that should remain open. He said this is especially true as ice melts due to rising temperatures, opening up new sea lanes.
While he touted American reductions in emissions in recent years and hit China for not doing the same, Pompeo did not explicitly mention climate change during the speech.
Instead, Pompeo’s speech was primarily a warning to other members of the Arctic Council that Russia and China have been taking steps that should concern any country with interests in the region.
Pompeo said the $90 billion China invested in the Arctic from 2012 to 2017 could enable the country to beef up its military presence in the region, a move that would follow what the Asian power has done in other parts of the world, such as the South China Sea.
“We need to examine these activities closely and keep the experience we have learned of other nations in mind,” Pompeo said. “China’s pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere should inform what we do and how it might treat the Arctic.”
Sitting 900 miles south of the Arctic Circle, China is not a member of the Arctic Council, but is officially described as an observer to the group’s work. When speaking with reporters after the speech, Gao Feng, China’s special representative for Arctic affairs, did not give much weight to Pompeo’s threats.
“He says it’s a new era,” Feng said, according to the Associated Press. “OK, competition. Let’s see who can get more friends. On the one hand, he can warn. How people react to that is another matter.”
Pompeo also urged the other members of the council to watch Russian military expansion in the Arctic, noting the country claims to have built 475 military sites north of the Arctic Circle.
“But Russia is unique,” Pompeo said. “Its actions deserve special attention, special attention of this council, in part because of their sheer scale. But also because we know Russian territorial ambitions can turn violent.”