Norway’s fisheries minister, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, appears to be the first casualty of China’s anger over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Berg-Hansen traveled to China on Sunday, but was met with news that her planned meeting with a high-ranking Chinese official in Beijing had been cancelled.
Berg-Hansen landed on Monday in Shanghai, where Norway, along with many other nations, has invested heavily to support one of China’s latest prestige projects, Expo 2010. Berg-Hansen was participating in events tied to the Expo project, after several other Norwegian government ministers have done the same as has Crown Prince Haakon.
Her program in Shanghai appeared unaltered, reports Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), but from Shanghai she was supposed to travel on to Beijing, to meet the Chinese vice-minister in charge of fishing and maritime issues.
That meeting on Wednesday has now been cancelled, reports NRK. Berg-Hansen’s delegation told NRK that it appeared to be China’s first official action against Norway, since the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Friday that it was awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to dissident Liu Xiaobo. The committee made it clear the award was not only to honor Liu but also meant to criticize China for its lack of democracy and human rights. As an emerging world power, China must learn to tolerate such criticism, claimed committee leader Thorbjørn Jagland.
Chinese officials nonetheless denounced the prize, and Berg-Hansen was suddenly no longer a priority. Another meeting, though, with her counterpart at the Chinese food safety authority had not been cancelled as of mid-day Monday.
Berg-Hansen had told NRK before leaving Oslo on Sunday that she felt Norway had “good cooperation” with China and stressed once again, as have her government colleagues earlier, that the Nobel Committee operates independently of the Norwegian government. She said she didn’t think she would encounter any problems during her visit to China.
Now one of her most important meetings won’t take place. Chinese government officials have strongly objected to the awarding of the Peace Prize to Liu, who has challenged their authority for years. The Chinese government considers him a criminal, continues to hold him in prison and has also now placed Liu’s wife in house arrest.