Iceland for Sale?

Suppose a foreign businessman offered to buy 300 sq. km. of pristine, unspoiled land in your country, proposing to build a luxury resort, with a hotel, villas, a golf course, an airport for small aircraft and outdoor recreational facilities. Might you wonder why such a large area of land was needed for the project? Might you be outraged at the despoliation of the natural landscape on such a huge scale. I would.

That businessman is Chinese, and the country is Iceland. Huang Nubo, owner of the Zhongkun Investment Group of Beijing, wants to build a resort to cater for the growing market in exotic destinations for wealthy Chinese tourists. The Icelandic government last November refused permission for the project, based on the size of the land purchase, and a very sensible Icelandic law against selling off large chunks of land to people who aren’t citizens of the European Economic Area.

But times are hard for European countries, and the prospect of an economic boost makes this an offer Iceland may not be able to refuse. The Ministry of Industry has taken charge, proposing a 100 year lease arrangement to get round that awkward law designed to protect Iceland from foreign economic domination. A favourable decision is expected in May or June.

I think it’s an appallingly short-sighted decision. For one thing, there’s little practical difference between a 100 year lease and a sale – in the the long run, as Keynes pointed out, we’re all dead. For another, the world will be a completely different place in a century. If present trends are anything to go by, China will be the dominant economic and military superpower in the world, taking the place now held by the United States. By that time Icelanders will probably be in no position to demand the return of “their” territory. And China will have its own enclave in NE Iceland, much like the British had in Hong Kong. I don’t know if the purchase includes access to the coast but if it did, and if Iceland was unable to control land usage there, the possibility of a Chinese foothold in Iceland is a distinct possibility.

I don’t see much debate about this in the English language newspapers – Iceland Review and The Reykjavik Grapevine – so if any Icelanders are reading this, or indeed anyone with real knowledge, then please leave a comment. Thanks.

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