Finnish media recently reported that the city of Kemijärvi, located in Finland’s northernmost Lapland region, after notifying the Finnish Defence Forces, rejected an offer a Chinese state agency made to buy or lease a local airport adjacent to a military zone.
The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) reported on March 4 that the director of the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC), the head of the polar research of China’s State Oceanic Administration, and a military attaché from Chinese Embassy in Finland, led a delegation, and traveled to Kemijärvi in 2018 with a plan to buy the airport. The airport would be used for landing and take-off of Arctic research airplanes. The Chinese side did not rule out covering the costs of renovating and expanding the airport.
“Their intention was to conduct Arctic research on the polar ice cover. They would have needed a base for these operations in Kemijärvi. A large jet aircraft with different measuring equipment would have come there, and they would have flown to the North Pole, taken their measurements and flown back,” explained Kemijärvi’s Mayor Atte Rantanen.
The flight route would have also made observations possible over the Arctic Ocean and the Northeast Passage, which is an area of interest to both China and Russia.
The 3,000-nautical-mile-long Northeast Passage of the Arctic Route, sailing westward through the Bering Strait, passing through the Chukchi Sea along the northern waters of the Eurasian continent, through the Barents Sea to the vicinity of the North Cape of Norway, and finally arriving at various ports in Europe, is the shortest sea channel to connect China and Europe. From the perspective of maritime transport efficiency, the Arctic route is 12 to 15 days less than the traditional route, known as the “Golden Waterway.”
The Kemijärvi municipal airport and airspace is adjacent to the Rovajärvi firing range, which the Finnish Defence Forces often use. After receiving the Chinese proposal, the city inquired about the response of the Defence Forces to the idea. “There was a clear view from the army that this type of activity could not be carried out there. It’s too close to Rovajärvi,” said Mayor Rantanen.
Anu Sallinen, a consultant with the Finnish Ministry of Defence, also told YLE that the idea to buy the Kemijärvi airport came to the Ministry three years ago. She noted that the property is unlikely to be sold to a foreign state-owned enterprise as it is next to a strategically important firing range. Moreover, such a proposal would be unrealistic given the 2020 EU legislation restricting foreign investment. China currently has Arctic research centers in Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, situated north of mainland Europe.
Source: Radio France International, March 5, 2021