When global warming blows a chilly wind on Chinese-Western relations
Nobody can’t quite understand why you would pay $9m to buy 300 square kilometres of barren, wind-scorched land in Northern Iceland. Neither why you would invest an additional $100m to build a luxury hotel in a region holding the record for the lowest Icelandic temperature.
Yet that’s precisely what Mr Huang Nubo plans to do. The Chinese tycoon wants to build an eco-resort and a golf-course in Grímsstadir á Fjöllum, a remote settlement only accessible during Iceland's (ephemeral) winter. It’s a treat, he argues, that will satisfy his poetic penchant for the untouched beauties of northernmost nature.
The president, Mr Ragnar Grimsson, finds it very charming. But he’s one of the only rare enthusiasts: overall Mr Huang’s decision has so far raised more opposition (and even more eyebrows) than cheers. For one, some see it as the latest crack affecting national independence in a country severely humbled by the financial crisis. Probably the latest manifestation of concerns already being voiced in the developed world, where debt-ridden nations feel vulnerable to predatory investment by the Chinese rich.
But most importantly, many (including Western observers) don’t get why you would need to buy what is, in fact, 0.3% of the Icelandic territory just to build a hotel and plant 18 flags. They wonder whether the purchase could not be the cover for something less naive. Because it’s not lost to anyone that Iceland could become a major hub for Asian cargo, should climate change open up the nearby Arctic to oil exploration and shipping routes. So whose hand is really signing the cheque, critics ask. Is the Chinese government using a proxy to push its national interests, they wonder. Trust between East and West is melting even faster than ice at the North pole.
True enough, the deal is far from being sealed. Iceland may face too much domestic opposition to approve the sale, and China may well decide to block the deal to avoid international backlash. Yet whatever happens the weather forecast for the years to come does not look good. As global temperatures continue to rise, a cold wave threatens to bite international relations.