Professor helps melt diplomatic freeze

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Diplomatic relations between Norway and China remain frozen, but the ice reportedly is melting, thanks to a Chinese professor who’s an American citizen and based in Singapore. Huang Jing, director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore, has been quietly working with Norwegian officials for the past five years to help restore contact, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).

Chinese authorities prevented Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo from receiving his prize last year, and now Nobel officials are worried about his safety. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Chinese anger over the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo continues to haunt relations between China and Norway, but an expert on Chinese politics has provided Norway with valuable help in dealing with the situation. Since Liu wasn’t allowed to attend the ceremony to receive his prize, his image was instead portrayed on the exterior of Oslo’s Grand Hotel, where prize winners traditionally stay and are hailed by crowds outdoors. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Nearly all official contact between Norway and China came to an abrupt halt in October 2010, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced it was awarding that year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Chinese officials, who consider Liu a criminal and have steadfastly kept him in jail, were furious, and neither Norway’s Labour-led government at the time nor its current Conservatives-led government has succeeded at regaining political contact.

Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Thursday that the Norwegian government has received advice and assistance from several experts including one of the world’s most widely recognized experts on Asian studies, especially Chinese politics. Huang Jing, in Norway last week to attend the Oslo Energy Forum at Holmenkollen, met with DN and spoke for the first time about the efforts he’s made to improve relations between China and Norway. He thinks they’re now heading “in the right direction.”

Huang Jing PHOTO: National University of Singapore

Professor Huang Jing PHOTO: National University of Singapore

Huang, with a doctorate in political science from Harvard and seats on the boards of many foundations and research institutes, is carefully referred to by top Norwegian officials as a “conversation partner” instead of an “adviser,” noted DN, because in diplomatic circles, an adviser can be part of decision-making. “Professor Huang Jing is a valued conversation partner, but has never been engaged as an adviser on these issues and has never received payment either,” Guri Solberg of Norway’s foreign ministry wrote in an email to DN. Norway has, however, provided funding for the university where he’s an important faculty member, and Huang said his travel expenses have been covered as he helps Norwegian officials understand Chinese procedures and identify important people in the Chinese decision-making apparatus.

He’s optimistic that relations between the two countries can be restored, telling DN that both sides have learned important lessons from their fallout. He characterized China as behaving immaturely in its role as an emerging super power. The reaction to the Peace Prize “should never have been as politicized as it was (in 2010),” he told DN. “The reason it was, I think, can be blamed on internal politics. You had a new leader on his way in and no one could be allowed to be seen as being weak. They were bound by opinion and reacted in a way that didn’t only damage the bilateral relation, but also China’s own interests.”

Insulted ‘big bully’
Huang said Norwegian authorities also were bound by opinion, which didn’t help bilateral relations either. “The Chinese thought that Norway wanted to insult China,” he told DN. “Norway viewed China as a big bully that tried to repress human rights.”

He believes such harsh feelings have faded and that both countries are trying to find a way out of their standoff in a “friendly manner” that will allow each to emerge with their pride intact. “Neither wants to lose face, they don’t want to put themselves in a difficult and embarrassing situation,” Huang told DN. “In other words, neither will go out and publicly say they made a mistake.”

DN reported that Huang helped arrange a meeting between Norwegian and Chinese diplomats during an international conference in Abu Dhabi in 2011. It may still take more time to reconcile, but Huang maintains Norway and China are now on the right track. Asked if the foreign ministry shares Huang’s optimism, Solberg responded that the ministry “is working for a normalization of bilateral relations with China. If it’s seen that we’re on the right track, that’s positive.”

DN reported that Huang’s optimism is not shared by centrally placed officials in the ministry, and more work remains. Asked whether any meeting might loom between China’s president and Norway’s prime minister, Huang said “no” and called that “unrealistic.”

“But it wouldn’t surprise me if Norway’s prime minister is invited to China, or that they meet, for example, at the G20 (summit),” Huang told DN. “I’m not worried about their bilateral relations.” The worst time was between 2010 and 2011, he said, and that’s long past.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund