Canada and Denmark have announced the creation of a task force to solve a long standing territorial dispute over Hans Island or Tartupaluk, which has been souring bilateral relations between Ottawa and Copenhagen since 1973, Danish Radio reported.
This week, talks were held in Ilulisat, Greenland between the two nations' foreign ministers Anders Samuelsen and Chrystia Freeland to finally put an end to the row over the barren rock placed between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland, a part of the Danish Realm, which has been brewing for decades, since the last time the border between Denmark and Greenland was demarcated.
"In a world full of major conflicts in other areas, we have found a format where we still meet and try to get the rocks off the road," Samuelsen was quoted as saying.
Seen from a distance, the diplomatic spat over an inhospitable rocky islet covered with snow for the most part of the year may make no sense. However, the debate has become essential for economic development in the Arctic, as the onset of global warming is expected to open up the area to mining, fishing and oil and gas drilling, as well as maritime traffic.
In the past, the island has been visited by Danes and Canadians trying to lay claim to it, while poking fun at the rival. In 1984, Canadian troops planted their nation's flag on the island while also leaving another potent symbolic marker: a bottle of Canadian whiskey.
Copenhagen refused to take the offense lying down. The Danish minister of Greenlandic affairs later visited the barren rock, replacing the Canadian items with a Danish flag and a bottle of snaps, Danish liquor — all accompanied with a note saying "Welcome to Denmark."
These seemingly light-hearted gestures and exchanges of diplomatic niceties eventually avalanched into diplomatic protests, animated online campaigns and even a Canadian call to boycott Danish pastries.
In 2012, the two nations reached a tentative deal on the maritime boundaries in the Lincoln Sea, a body of water in northeastern Canada. However, the fate of long-suffering Hans Island and the overlapping of economic zones, to which both nations lay claim, was not resolved.
Danish officials fear losing the ownership battle would lead to a reputational loss undermining relations with Greenland, whose authorities in recent years have shown an increasing interest in leaving the realm.
By contrast, Ottawa is worried that a loss over the little island would weaken its negotiating position in a more substantial dispute with the US over the Beaufort Sea in far northwestern Canada.