Chinese in Greenland – Good News You May Not Have Expected?

I visited Greenland about 10 years ago, and it still ranks among the most fascinating places I have been to. It made quite an impression on me, keeping me curious enough to read the odd article I stumble across about the world’s largest island.   One article that recently caught my attention was that 2,000 Chinese workers would be shipped to the freezing land to build an aluminium smelter.


Chinese in Greenland

The Chinese in Greenland. Background by Gerald Zinnecker


Much has been reported about China’s interest in Greenland since 2005.  Some see China’s economic contribution as a coup for the locals, with infrastructure and cash for resources helping Greenland on the road to independence from Denmark.  There’s also positive contributions expected through increased climate and polar research.  But like Africa, the Nile and almost every developing country where the Chinese are these days, comes talk of imperialism, environmental degradation and all sorts of other fears.


I’m not enough of expert to know whether China’s increased presence in Greenland is good or bad, but one thing that doesn’t appear to have been considered is the potential opportunity to expand Greenland’s gene pool.  When I visited Greenland it was what knocked me the most.


Travelling between Greenland’s villages is prohibitively expensive by air, rarely done by sea (which is often frozen and stormy) and nigh impossible by land – there are no roads between regions and the vast distances make it a very long and cold sled trip.  Most villages are small, a few hundred to a few thousand, and with such little travel between settlements, family trees can often grow fairly vertical.  Then came the Chinese workers riding their white horses.


There’s talk of brothels for the Chinese workers in Greenland, which will bring much needed employment for the locals (unemployment was 70% in the region I visited), but I’m hoping relations are a little deeper and a few of the smelter folk fall in love and make happy families.  A few Chinese workers living happily ever after in Greenland won’t make much of a dent in China’s male surplus, but it all helps, and will hopefully lead to a healthier and more symmetrical population in Greenland.


Regardless of the positives and negatives of China’s presence in Greenland, there’s little doubt that they will make an impact on the balance of the population.  Just 57,000 people live on the rock, so an extra 2,000 Chinese rolling into town definitely wont be without it’s challenges.  I watch with interest…

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My wife Ellen and I are currently living in China, bumbling our way around this fascinating and fast-changing country. We kicked off our stay with a semester of Intensive Mandarin studies at Beijing Language and Culture University and are now living in Shanghai. These posts cover some of my experiences, views and curious facts in and around the Middle Kingdom. Please let me know what you think!

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