* President Hu Jintao on first state visit to Denmark
* Visit sparks $3 bln in business deals
* China's gaze extends to Greenland minerals - experts
By John Acher and Mette Fraende
COPENHAGEN, June 16 Chinese President Hu
Jintao's three-day visit to Denmark may ostensibly have been
about signing billions worth of business deals, but a stake in
Greenland's huge mineral wealth may have been the elephant in
Greenland, a self-governing dependency of Denmark, has some
of the world's biggest deposits of rare earth elements,
strategically important metals in which China has a near
monopoly. The north Atlantic island is also situated by sea
lanes that are increasingly important as the Arctic melts.
That may explain why the leader of the world's most populous
country decided to visit a nation of 5.6 million for three days.
"He didn't come just to look at the Little Mermaid," said
Damien Degeorges, an associate researcher with the University of
Greenland, referring to the small bronze statue of the mermaid
from the fairytale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.
Hu and his wife Liu Yongqing viewed Copenhagen's most
popular tourist draw on a Friday sightseeing tour which also
included the 17th-century Rosenborg castle and its China Room
and a harbour trip on the royal yacht with Queen Margrethe II.
The first state visit to Denmark since the countries
established diplomatic ties 62 years ago occurred less than two
months after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao went to Iceland, raising
more questions about what China wants in the far north.
Danish and Chinese firms signed roughly $3 billion worth of
export and investment deals, including plans by Danish brewer
Carlsberg to build a big brewery in China and by
Maersk to expand the Chinese port of Ningbo.
Danish and Chinese officials also signed 11 agreements on
Saturday in areas from health t o c limate, food and fisheries.
"This shows the high level of attention we attach to our
relationship with Denmark," Hu said before talks with Danish
Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt on a range of topics from
Europe's economic crisis to China's position on Syria.
Danish officials tried to shoot down speculation that Hu's
visit was ultimately about Greenland's resources.
"Arctic issues are not on the agenda for this visit," Danish
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean Ellermann-Kingombe said.
HUNGER FOR NATURAL RESOURCES
There was similar speculation when Wen started his tour of
northern Europe two months ago by visiting Iceland. That he
stopped first on a remote island of just 320,000 sparked
suspicions of Beijing's hunger for natural resources.
A Chinese developer is fighting an Icelandic government
decision last year to bar him from buying land which some had
suggested might be a cover for a possible future naval base and
part of a wider strategy to gain a foothold in the region.
Hu may have chosen Denmark as the only stopover on his way
to the G20 meeting in Mexico because Denmark holds the rotating
EU presidency or because it supports China's bid to get observer
status in the Arctic Council, the body of eight Arctic states.
But analysts said that was only part of the picture.
"Most analysts agree that when China looks towards Denmark,
it also looks towards Greenland," said Degeorges.
Greenland, with a population of just 57,000, is dependent on
exports of fish and shrimp and handouts from Denmark. It is keen
to reduce that dependence by developing other industries.
The Chinese already have a foothold in the Greenland
minerals exploration and development business.
London Mining, a firm backed by Chinese
steelmakers, is seeking permission to construct an iron ore mine
northeast of Nuuk at a cost of $2.35 billion that would be the
biggest industrial development in Greenland if sanctioned.
Martin Breum, author of a book on Denmark's role in the
Arctic and Greenland's oil possibilities, said the iron ore
project - though potentially hugely important to Greenland - was
not what worried Western governments, industries and
"Potential Chinese control of the rare earth elements in
Greenland is scary to a lot of governments in the Western
world," Breum said, noting that rare earth elements were used in
products from telephones, televisions and hybrid cars to cruise
missiles and night-vision goggles for soldiers.
"Rare earth elements are of crucial importance to the
industries of the western world," Breum said, adding that
China's de facto monopoly on rare earth elements was intolerable
to the West in the long term.
On June 13, a day before the Chinese president arrived in
Denmark, European Commissioners Antonio Tajani and Andris
Piebalgs signed an agreement in Nuuk to ensure that Greenland's
minerals remained available to free markets in the future.
Although the West's concerns are real, Breum said he was no
conspiracy theorist, and Hu's visit was not a pretext.
"I don't buy the conspiracy at all that the governnments
would secretly be negotiating some important deals about
Greenland and minerals," Breum said.