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China tries to spoil Nobel party

Chinese officials have asked several ambassadors in Oslo to stay away from the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony next month. They remain angry with the Norwegian Nobel Committee for awarding the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Nobel Institute officials think this year's Peace Prize ceremony will be just as well-attended as those in previous years. PHOTO: NRK

The Chinese apparently want to spoil the annual Nobel party, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to succeed. One embassy official told Views and News that “of course we are going, we go every year,” while another said they also were attending but added “please don’t even write that you spoke to us! China is also our friend, and we don’t want to get in the middle of a fight between two other countries.”

Other embassies including those from Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark told other media outlets including newspaper Aftenposten and news bureau AP that they would be attending as well. The British Embassy said it simply was referring all calls on the matter to their foreign office in London.

Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, who have eagerly been sending out articles and commentaries lately denouncing the Norwegian Nobel Committee and its chairman, Thorbjørn Jagland, declined to respond to Views and News’ call.

The Nobel Committee has said the ceremony will go on as planned in Oslo City Hall on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. It’s still unclear who will accept the award on behalf of Liu, who remains in prison in China.

Jan Egeland, a former top diplomat and UN official who now heads the foreign policy institute NUPI in Oslo, told Aftenposten that attempts by the Chinese to pressure other countries into dropping the Nobel ceremony can easily backfire. “This just shows how different our two systems are, and how different our understandings of the systems are,” Egeland told Aftenposten on Friday.

He said the Chinese view the Peace Prize to Liu as unfair, since they believe they’ve made progress on human rights. “They’re right in saying they’ve come a long way from 30 to 40 years ago, but they’re still lagging behind on the issue of freedom of speech and expression,” Egeland said. “They’re among the worst when it comes to stifling the free word.”

Around 1,000 people are invited to the ceremony where the Nobel Peace Prize is formally awarded every year. Geir Lundestad of the Nobel Institute told Aftenposten that all ambassadors in Oslo have been invited and he believes the ceremony is “very popular” among them.

There have been protests before. Indonesia’s ambassador didn’t attend when the Peace Prize went to Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta in 1996 for their efforts to free Øst-Timor, but Iran’s ambassador did attend when the Peace Prize was awarded to Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi in 2003.

China’s ambassador is among those invited, but Lundestad said the invitation was returned to the Nobel Institute, unopened.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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