Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen was told Tuesday that her Chinese hosts for another top meeting in Beijing this week no longer have time to see her. The latest fallout from Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize announcement in Norway is prompting Berg-Hansen to drop her long-planned trip to the Chinese capital.
Berg-Hansen is currently in Shanghai to promote Norwegian seafood and visit the Norwegian pavilion at China’s Expo 2010. Norway is the largest exporter of salmon to China, and the two countries have been negotiating a free trade deal for the past two years.
From Shanghai, Berg-Hansen was supposed to travel to Beijing for meetings with her counterparts. Upon landing on Monday, however, she was told that one of the meetings already had been cancelled. Now another one has been cancelled, so Berg-Hansen won’t travel to Beijing after all. Instead she was expected to travel home to Norway.
The latest meeting was with China’s vice minister in charge of food safety issues. “It’s unfortunate that there won’t be this meeting either,” she told Tromsø newspaper Nordlys. Berg-Hansen had considered the political meetings important, but recognized an apparent need by the Chinese to assert themselves.
They were highly offended when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Friday that it was awarding this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese government considers Liu a criminal, and said that Norway and other countries that have applauded the prize have shown little respect for China’s legal system.
The Nobel Committee, which operates independently of the Norwegian government, had earlier suggested that China needs to show more respect for human rights and needs to learn how to tolerate criticism, since it’s emerging as a major world power.
Little tolerance for such criticism was evident this week, as China followed through on warnings that the Peace Prize to Liu would harm relations between Norway and China. Norwegian officials continue to expect “business as usual” and claim it won’t do any good for either China or Norway to cancel meetings and jeopardize a looming trade pact.
News bureau Reuters reported, meanwhile, that Liu has asked his wife Liu Xia to travel to Oslo to accept the prize on his behalf, since he’s imprisoned in China. It remained unclear whether the Chinese authorities would allow her to travel.