Danes woke on Friday wondering if the calendar had been turned back to April 1st. News that US president Donald Trump had floated the idea of purchasing Greenland from Denmark in several conversations in the White House was greeted by a mixture of incredulity and derision.
Greenland’s government has since said the island is “not for sale”.
"It must be an April Fool's Day joke," Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who was Denmark's prime minister until June, said in a tweet. Aaja Larsen, one of Greenland's two MPs in the Danish parliament, told the Financial Times: "I don't think it's a good idea. I say no thank you to Trump."
There was no official comment on Friday from Denmark’s centre-left government, just as there was no indication from the US as to how serious was Mr Trump’s thinking, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Soren Espersen, foreign affairs spokesman of the right-wing Danish People's party, told state broadcaster DR: "If it's true that he is working on these thoughts, then it's definite proof that he's gone crazy. I must say it as it is: the idea that Denmark should sell 50,000 citizens to the US is completely insane."
Greenland, the world's biggest island that is home to just 58,000 residents, is a self-governing Danish territory that depends on Copenhagen for foreign affairs and national security and is geographically part of North America.
But polls suggest there is strong support in Greenland for independence from Denmark, with the main stumbling block on how the Arctic island would replace the substantial financial grant it receives annually from Copenhagen.
"Trump buy Greenland?! Hopefully it's a joke, but otherwise it is a terrible thought, with the risk of the militarisation of Greenland and less independence for the Greenlandic people – besides being a great loss to Denmark," said Martin Lidegaard, a former centre-left foreign minister.
Mr Trump is making a state visit to Copenhagen on September 2-3rd, when he will meet the prime ministers of both Denmark and Greenland. The US already has an air base at Thule, inside the Arctic Circle in the north of Greenland that enjoys considerable autonomy.
"We have worked closely with the US on security policy in the Arctic, but to air the idea of buying Greenland is completely over the top," said Marcus Knuth, the centre-right Liberal's Greenland spokesperson.
For all the gallows humour in Copenhagen, Denmark does have history of selling islands to the US. In 1916, the US bought the Danish West Indies for $25 million amid fears in the first world war that Germany might gain control over what became the US Virgin Islands.
The US also has a history of trying to buy Greenland, most recently in 1946 when president Harry Truman offered $100 million.
Any move by the US to seek greater control over Greenland would spark alarm in Moscow, amid increasing militarisation of the Arctic region and attempts by Russia to exert more control over the frozen north.
Since 2013, Russia has spent billions of dollars building or upgrading seven military bases along its northern Arctic coastline, setting up radar stations, missile defence batteries, airstrips and ports, as part of a bid to be the pre-eminent military power in the region.
Given that Greenland already hosts the Thule base, Russia would likely respond negatively to any attempts by Washington to build up its defence and security presence on the island, which boasts a sizeable chunk of the world’s Arctic coastline.
Both Russia and Denmark, through Greenland, have claimed the Lomonosov Ridge, an 1,800km-long underwater piece of territory that runs across the Arctic, under the north pole, from northern Siberia to water close to the coasts of Canada and Greenland.
The US warned Denmark last year over Chinese interest in building three airports on Greenland, eventually pushing Copenhagen to provide financing to keep China out. The Chinese government published its first ever white paper on Arctic policy last January, in which it publicly shifted its interests in Greenland from scientific research to commerce. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019