One of the Norwegian government’s most prestigious business projects, a free trade treaty between Norway and China, appears to be the latest casualty of Chinese anger over the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to one of China’s leading dissidents.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Tuesday that Chinese officials have sent word to their Norwegian counterparts that they’re postponing the next round of meetings on the free trade treaty between the two countries. The meetings were supposed to take place just after New Year.
Many Norwegian business leaders have been worried that China would suspend talks on the free trade treaty, which has been a prestigious project for Norwegian Trade Minister Trond Giske of the Labour Party. Giske has been keen on closing a deal that would make Norway the first European country to obtain a free trade deal with China that would apply to all Norwegian products.
The bilateral trade deal could, for example, slash tariffs on Norwegian seafood exports to China, which has emerged as a key market for Norway’s seafood industry. Trade between Norway and China has boomed in recent years and Giske said earlier this fall that he hoped the new trade pact would be agreed and take effect by next summer.
Now that seems unlikely. Chinese officials told their Norwegian counterparts that they “need more time for internal consultations” before new dates can be set for further meetings.
The postponement is widely viewed to be more retaliation by the Chinese government, which has been angered and embarrassed by the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo, who remains jailed in China. The Chinese consider him a criminal and have refused to differentiate between the Norwegian Nobel Committee and the Norwegian government, blaming them both for the prize decision.
Henning Kristoffersen, one of Norway’s leading experts on trade with China, told Aftenposten that he thinks the Chinese will wait until after the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on December to determine further relations with Norway. They earlier this fall cancelled a string of business and cultural events, and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has said the Norwegian government “regrets” China’s response to the Peace Prize.
Kristoffersen noted that the Chinese authorities warned the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu would damage relations with Norway. “If they’d gone ahead with the trade negotiations as planned, they would have sent a signal that everything is as it was (before the prize was announced),” Kristoffersen said,
Giske tried to laugh off the latest meeting cancellation, noting that the last meeting had been postponed as well, before the prize was announced. He told Aftenposten he saw no reason to “speculate” that this latest postponement was tied to the prize.
Meanwhile, a group of Chinese residents in Norway delivered a letter of protest to the Nobel Institute in Oslo on Monday, saying they were “shocked and amazed” that the Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to a “criminal.” Institute director Geir Lundestad received the group and their letter, but told news bureau NTB he believes the Chinese Embassy in Oslo has pressured local Chinese into making such protests.
The group who called on the Nobel Institute Monday was led by Ya Ming Yuen, who lives in Moss, south of Oslo. He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the prize “hurt our feelings” but that his group and Lundestad simply agreed to disagree on the issue.