* Foreign powers eye resources
* Open up or back to roots?
* Election on Tuesday
By Alistair Scrutton
NUUK, March 10 Kuupik Kleist's earliest memories
are hunting whales with hand-thrown harpoons. Now, as
Greenland's prime minister, he is feted by Chinese and European
leaders as he opens up its untapped mineral resources.
A verdict on this country's transformation comes on Tuesday,
when this island - a quarter the size of the United States and
with only 57,000 mostly Inuit inhabitants - holds a general
There is only one polling station in the capital Nuuk, which
has just two traffic lights and where hunting is still the most
popular pastime. But the vote may pack a global punch.
After four years of Kleist - a quiet-spoken musician known
as Greenland's Leonard Cohen for his gravelly voice - the vote
is effectively a referendum on how far it embraces international
mining companies, energy giants, and foreign workers.
At stake may be Greenland's growing geopolitical role as
global warming and the thawing of sea ice open up new sea lanes,
minerals and oil fields - drawing the interest of world powers
from China to the United States.
"There is a growing nationalist backlash. It's not a nice
thing to see," Kleist said, sitting in his ninth floor office
overlooking the snow-capped hills surrounding Nuuk Bay.
"The fear of being overrun by foreigners is exaggerated,"
the 54-year-old said. "We are becoming a global player. We need
to avoid ethnicity, nationalistic feelings."
With Greenland having self-rule from Denmark aside from
defence and security, the vote has seen a split between Kleist
and an opposition linked to traditional Greenlanders like
fishermen and hunters who feel he has gone too far in welcoming
There are calls for more taxes on foreign firms, growing
suspicions about Chinese mining investments, demands for more
environmental safeguards and even anti-colonial rhetoric to
limit the use the Danish language being spoken.
"The main issue is that people feel that they are not part
of the decision-making process of big scale projects and
mining," opposition leader Aleqa Hammond said at her small
campaign offices in Nuuk. "Where is the voice of the people?"
Hammond also grew up in a remote village. Her father died
when she was young after he fell through ice while hunting. She
says her family tried to make her marry a hunter. She refused.
Instead, she has a good chance of being next prime minister.
Since Greenland won self-government in 2009, most
politicians have aimed for growing autonomy and eventual
independence. The more revenues from mining or oil, the more
Greenland weans itself of Denmark's annual grant that accounts
for more than half the island's budget.
In Kleist's gleaming new offices in Nuuk, many Danish civil
servants sip cappuccinos, huddle over computer screens and plot
policies from finance to mining regulations. Greenlanders
mention the symbolism of an executive and its staff whose
offices sit over Nuuk's one shopping mall.
The civil servants stand out in Nuuk, where sushi bars and
cozy, heated cafes with sofas and internet contrast with barren,
concrete housing estates of fishing industry workers.
HOPE OR HYPE?
Not one mining or oil project has got off the ground yet.
But more than 100 exploration licenses have been awarded.
There are large deposits of rare earths, used in products from
wind turbines to hybrid-powered cars. China accounts for the
majority of world supply. There are hopes for gold and zinc.
Government officials says reserves may be equivalent to as
much half of the entire North Sea.
Central to the debate in Greenland is a $2.3 billion project
for an iron ore mine by the British-based London Mining Plc
near a fiord in Nuuk. It may involve diesel power
plants, a road and port and would supply China with iron to fuel
Some 2,000 Chinese workers - the equivalent of around four
percent of Greenland's population - could fly in for its
construction, touching nerves where unemployment is rising.
"People feel that I am unemployed but the Chinese are coming
in by mass," said Hammond.
At Nuuk's windswept port, fishermen drag in fish and seals
from a catch. The floor on a small warehouse is awash with
blood. There is a gagging stench of dead flesh.
Johannes Heilmann, 64, grew up hunting for whales. He still
fishes with a 19-feet long boat encrusted in ice in the harbour,
shooting occasional seal with a rifle to sell for meat in Nuuk.
Fishing accounts for 90 percent of Greenland's exports.
Heilmann is the Greenlander that is suspicious of mining. He
campaigns against Kleist. He complains about fishing quotas, and
how cheaper foreign produce is pushing out local food.
"No matter how much mining comes here, fisheries will be our
main industry," Heilmann said. "Politicians should pay more
attention to us."
Heilmann worries about London Mining. He fears any spill
from the iron ore ships could destroy fishing.
"I don't mind if Chinese come here," he said. "But if there
is an accident?"
Others are more nationalistic. One new party, Partii Inuit,
has caused controversy by calling for more prominence for
Greenlandic language over Danish, still widely used here.
Four hours north of Nuuk by boat lies Maniitsoq, one of many
villages dotted on the western coast, relying on state subsidies
for heating and communications. Unemployment is high.
U.S. giant Alcoa Inc has considered building an aluminium
smelter there, strategically sited between European and North
American markets. It could entail the import of thousands of
workers, possibly from China.
Many here are desperate for Alcoa after much of fisheries
has vanished. The town is huddled on an outcrop of windswept
rocks with rusty housing blocks.
"The younger people, they all want Alcoa," said Jens Moller,
head of a community training project in Maniitsoq, told Reuters
by phone. "The older generation want better fishing. They are
the ones likely to vote for the opposition."
In Nuuk, Karsten Peter Jensen is a 27-year-old post graduate
student. He enjoys hunting in fiords for grouse or reindeer. But
he also enjoys sushi bars and chic shops.
"The last four years have been very positive, we have looked
to the outside world," Jensen said. "But for other people, they
think change has come too fast. There is a perception
Greenlanders have been put aside a bit."
Worries that China wants an Arctic foothold have risen in a
territory that for years was a Cold War ally of the West.
It was little surprise when President Hu Jintao, China's
outgoing leader, paid a three-day visit last year to Denmark,
home to just six million people. Many assumed Greenland's riches
were on his mind despite official denials.
Hammond says she would introduce royalties for mining
companies and revise a law passed last year that effectively
allowed big mining companies to employ thousands of foreign
workers for construction of projects.
"For the greedy ones that want 100 percent of everything,
Greenland is not for them," Hammond said.
That has some investors worried. Several mining executives,
who asked to remain anonymous as they did not want to talk about
politics, said investment decisions were on hold.
Few believe Greenland would turn against mining. The concern
is more that politicians could hurt a fragile and emerging
industry through demanding too many royalties and taxes.
"We are a small country that is in competition with the rest
of the world," said Maliina Abelsen, finance minister. "When you
build up expectations, you get people saying that we have so
much in the ground, so we are fine."
"But we cannot eat that for breakfast. It is still in the
An annual grant from Denmark has been effectively frozen at
around 3.5 billion Danish crowns (about $610 million) and will
shrink in real value over time.
Kleist pointed to his view over Nuuk. Icebergs floated by.
He worried that if he lost power he would lose the view.
"There's always been a tendency to isolate Greenland from
the rest of the world," Kleist said. "It's been my personal
ambition to open us up. There is no alternative."