The United States and its Nato allies should maintain close ties to defend their interests in the resource-rich Arctic as China extends its reach around the world, according to a US naval commander. In an online seminar hosted by London-based think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies on Thursday, Admiral James Foggo, commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, said China was “increasingly seeking to exploit the Arctic”, and its activities in the region – as well as in Africa and Europe – posed security concerns for the US and other members of the transatlantic security alliance. “China has even labelled itself as a ‘near Arctic country’,” Foggo said. “They’re eyeing investment opportunities that range from natural resource exploration to the future commercial maritime traffic potential of the ‘Polar Silk Road’,” he said, referring to Beijing’s ambition to extend President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming. Beijing has said its interests in the Arctic would be mostly linked to commerce and environmental protection, but Foggo said the area could become the focus of “bogus claims”. “With China having its own precedent for making bogus claims over international waterways in the South China Sea , it’s possible that China will also seek to bend the rules in their favour in the Arctic,” he said. Foggo also highlighted 5G telecommunications technology and control of port infrastructure as causes of concern for Europe. “Nato can no longer ignore China’s activities in Europe,” he said. China has embarked on a trillion-US dollar infrastructure drive under the belt and road banner to link economies into a China-centred trading network. The initiative involves more than 125 countries but has been dogged by controversy, including concerns over debt sustainability. Foggo said China’s growing investment in Africa and Europe could be used to influence local authorities and compromise the US Navy’s interests around the world. “This type of influence is a security concern and it could be used to restrict access to key seaports and airports at ease while providing access to sensitive government and military information through the technology of state-owned and state controlled enterprises,” he said. Did China’s growing presence in Arctic prompt Donald Trump’s offer to buy Greenland? In addition, Foggo said, China was buying “news outlets and entertainment companies to push its propaganda and erase any criticism against its government”. He said Chinese leaders and the country’s more aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomats were “restricting information about the coronavirus and donating equipment and personnel, even in Europe as a way to show that it is a world leader”. But while these risks should be factored into a new maritime strategy for Nato, dialogue was also needed to avoid miscalculation. His comments come as tensions rise in the South China Sea. China and the US have ramped up their presence in the disputed waters, where for the first time since 2017, three 100,000-tonne US Navy aircraft carriers are on patrol. Beijing claims much of the sea as its own but there are overlapping claims from neighbours including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia. “I think there is always room for dialogue,” Foggo said, who headed the US delegation in talks with the Chinese military over the code for unplanned encounters at sea. The end of the Arctic as we know it Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said Foggo’s comments could be seen as part of Washington’s effort to ingratiate itself with Nato to counter China. “The US is seeking to expand Nato’s capabilities to the western Pacific and the Arctic, and pushed by the US, Nato has started to pay attention to China,” Song said. “But as a Europe-based military alliance, Nato would instead see Russia as a major opponent.” He said the risk of conflict between Beijing and Nato over the Arctic was very low because China had no core interests in the region. “Under international law, China is only an observer state to the Arctic, which means it can only cooperate with one of the eight Arctic nations, for example, Russia, in developing trade route or energy,” Song said.