This week’s sale of one of Norway’s major companies to a state-controlled Chinese conglomerate doesn’t mean strained relations between Norway and China are back on track. Members of Parliament (MPs) have had to cancel a long-planned trip to China, after failing to secure the needed invitations and clearance from Chinese authorities.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Wednesday that members of the Norwegian parliament’s standing committee on family and cultural issues won’t be heading for Beijing in March after all.
“We have been advised to postpone the visit because Chinese authorities won’t give us the invitation and clearances necessary to draw up a program and obtain visas,” committee leader Gunn Karin Gjul of the Labour Party told DN. She said the committee therefore planned to postpone or cancel the visit.
Gjul had no doubts about why they trip was being dropped, calling the lack of an invitation “a political reaction from the Chinese authorities to the Nobel Peace Prize to (Chinese human rights activist) Liu Xiaobo,” Gjul told DN. “They don’t differentiate between the Nobel Committee and Norwegian authorities.
“That’s too bad,” she added. “It’s also too bad that China doesn’t respect human rights or tolerate the decision of the Nobel Committee.” She repeated earlier claims that the Nobel Committee operates independently, even though its members are appointed by the parliament.
Latest in a series of snubs
The MPs’ aborted trip follows several snubs and cancellations of meetings at the government level in the weeks after the prize was announced on October 8. It was the Foreign Ministry that advised the committee to postpone its visit, because of “uncertainty” over how the trip could be carried out.
There haven’t been many other cancellations of late, though, and on Tuesday, Norwegian industrial concern Orkla could announce that it was selling its metals unit Elkem to China National Bluestar, a unit of the huge state-owned China National Chemical Corp. DN reported that deal officially got underway on October 17, just a week after the Peace Prize was announced, when China Chem’s boss Ren Jianxin visited Oslo. While China’s embassy in Norway was furiously attacking the Peace Prize, and started trying to mount a boycott of the ceremony in December, the Chinese top executive and Orkla’s investment banker were dining at one of Oslo’s most fashionable restaurants and visiting their Norwegian counterparts, according to DN.
That doesn’t mean it’s “business as usual,” warns Henning Kristoffersen of multinational DNV and an authority on China. He said the MPs’ cancelled trip can indicate deeper political damage than many in Norway had expected.
“It’s serious, because the political contacts in China are so critical for cooperation at all levels of society,” Kristoffersen told DN. “The longer these ice-cold relations persist, the more difficult it will be for Norwegians to gain cooperation for research, education, cultural affairs or business.”
Kristoffersen believes the Chinese have been further provoked by Norwegians and other western officials who think the Chinese are pragmatic enough to allow business deals to move forward, while maintaining political outrage over the Peace Prize.
“It’s a mistake to think that political snubs are only for show, and that other processes function as before,” he said. “That’s underestimating how seriously the Chinese authorities view the Peace Prize.”