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Chinese relations in deep freeze

Norway’s relations with China were chilly even before the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded last year’s Peace Prize to a Chinese human rights activist. More WikiLeaks documents reveal strains in 2009 and earlier, and there’s also international alarm over a Chinese space project that has destroyed satellites. Now relations between China and Norway seem frozen.

Norwegian-Chinese relations were chilly even before the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. PHOTO: Views and News

The WikiLeaks documents are among the thousands of diplomatic cables initially leaked to the non-profit organization and now also in the possession of Oslo newspaper Aftenposten. The Norwegian paper has been running reports every day for the past few weeks as its staff sifts through the vast array of material.

In one article just before the Christmas holidays, Aftenposten reported that Norway’s so-called “dialogue” with China was dead. Norwegian diplomats reportedly have been “disappointed” and “frustrated” by a lack of progress on talks over both human rights issues and a bilateral trade pact between the two countries.

Norway has conducted annual human rights discussions with China since 1997. The process started attracting criticism within Norway a few years ago, when Norwegian authorities failed to evaluate it and thus reveal whether the discussions were having any positive effects in China.

Now an American diplomatic cable revealed through WikiLeaks and Aftenposten quotes a Norwegian diplomat telling his American counterparts in Beijing that Norway was dissatisfied with the development of its relations with China, and that the human rights talks in 2009 has produced “zero results.” Chinese officials had also downgraded the talks by failing to have any representatives from the political level take part.

The Norwegian disappointment intensified when a Chinese court sentenced human rights activist Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison on Christmas Day of 2009. Liu won the Peace Prize for 2010, which in turn infuriated the Chinese government.

Meanwhile, talks over the Norwegian-Chinese trade deal were also going poorly, according to another American diplomatic cable. The Norwegian subject of that cable confirmed his assessment to Aftenposten. “Both the human rights dialogue and the free trade deal with China are dead,” the Norwegian told Aftenposten. Trade talks that were supposed to resume this month have been postponed indefinitely, a major disappointment for Trade Minister Trond Giske who had pushed hard for what could have been the first free trade deal between China and a country in Europe.

Now it seems unlikely China is willing to discuss human rights either, with any other nation. Norway, according to the WikiLeaks documents, is far from alone in its frustration over Chinese authorities’ defensiveness on human rights issues. Diplomats from Sweden and the European Union as a whole also have been rebuffed, with Chinese authorities indicating that their newfound economic muscle has led to “new times” and that they no longer want to sit still and receive a lecture.

‘Star Wars’ shock
On another front, several countries including the US also are alarmed, even “shocked,” over China’s emerging ventures into outer space, especially its so-called “Star Wars” project. WikeLeaks documents suggest that China has stated a new military space race that allegedly has scared the Americans.

Aftenposten reported Tuesday that WikiLeaks documents it has obtained show that American officials are deeply worried over China’s newfound ability to shoot satellites out of the sky. Its first display of its ability took place in January 2007, when a rocket from the Xichang space center in Sechuan Province destroyed a satellite and violated international agreements against exactly that.

China since has reportedly attacked at least three satellites, in violation of international agreements, and the US has needed to alter the course of several of its own satellites, to reduce the danger of more damage.

“The satellites are incredibly important, for surveillance, navigation or communication,” Ståle Ulriksen of foreign policy research institute NUPI told Aftenposten. “If anyone knocks them out, the entire western military concept can collapse. The US and NATO will lose their military might.”

Ulriksen said the US has taken steps to shield itself, “but it’s difficult.” The incident in 2007 was a shock, along the lines of Sputnik years earlier. Harsh US criticism of China’s actions, though, have been rebuffed by Chinese authorities. According to one WikiLeaks document, a top US defense official was actually cut off by his Chinese counterpart when he took up the issue in 2008, in breach of diplomatic etiquette.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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