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Finland’s Defence Ministry blocked Chinese plans for research airbase in Lapland
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03/04/2021 02:04 PM
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A Chinese state research institute sought to lease or buy an airport adjacent to a military zone in 2018.
Yle understands that the state-funded Polar Research Institute of China made an offer to buy or lease the airport at Kemijärvi in Finnish Lapland for use as a base for flights over the Arctic region.
A purchase proposal was made to the City of Kemijärvi by a delegation of Chinese research institutes including a military expert in January 2018. The matter is only now being made public.
The delegation was led by Xia Zhang, Director of the Polar Research Institute of China, and Xu Shije, Director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration. The party also included Major Lie Ji, an assistant to the military attaché at the Chinese Embassy in Finland.
The goal of the Chinese research institute was to establish an airbase for Arctic climate and environmental research flights extending to the northern polar area, according to Kemijärvi’s Mayor Atte Rantanen.
“Their intention was to conduct Arctic research on the polar ice cover, and they would have needed a base for these operations in Kemijärvi. A large jet aircraft with different measuring equipment would have come here, and they would have flown to the North Pole, taken their measurements and flown back,” Rantanen explains.
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 Northeast Passage is an important area and, of course, all of the big powers are interested in what kind of traffic is possible there,” Rantanen points out.
He adds that if the venture had gone ahead, the 1,400-meter runway for small aircraft at Kemijärvi Airport would have been extended to three kilometres in order to handle heavy jet traffic.
Renovation of the runway alone would have cost at least 40 million euros. In addition, new airport buildings and a research laboratory would have been required, all of which Rantanen says the Chinese research institutes would have been willing to finance.
Plan nipped in the bud
Kemijärvi Airport and its flight path is adjacent to the village of Ketola, and right next to the Finnish Defence Forces’ Rovajärvi firing range. The Defence Forces have also used the airport from time to time.
After receiving the Chinese proposal, the city inquired about the position of the Defence Forces on the idea.
“There was a clear view from the army that this type of activity cannot be carried out here. It’s too close to Rovajärvi,” says Rantanen, adding that there was no follow-up to the initial proposal.
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