China allows ministerial meeting

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Diplomatic relations between Norway and China, all but frozen since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, may finally have begun to thaw. Chinese authorities have agreed to allow Norway’s government minister in charge of oil and energy to attend an international ministerial meeting in Beijing.

China was furious over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, and has let the Norwegian government know it. This pro-government demonstration was held in Oslo last year. PHOTO: Views and News

“I’m looking forward to the trip,” Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday. “It’s an important agenda with important contacts for Norway.”

It’s also the first time a Norwegian minister will be allowed to participate in a high-level meeting in China, since Chinese officials started what some diplomats have considered a siege of punishment against Norway last October. That’s when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced it was awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo, who’s serving a long prison term in China. The Nobel Committee believes Xiaobo is a champion of human rights, while Chinese officials see him as a criminal who has incited subversion of the state’s power.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee at last year's Peace Prize ceremony, which winner Liu Xiaobo wasn't able to attend because he's in jail in China. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

Chinese government officials won’t recognize the distinction between the Norwegian Nobel Committee and the Norwegian government, or accept that the government has no control over the committee’s awards. Since last year’s prize was announced, Chinese authorities have cancelled meetings with Norwegian officials, created challenges for Norwegian businesses and denied visas to a long string of government, academic and business leaders. China boycotted last year’s Nobel Prize ceremony, pressured other countries into doing the same and delayed negotiations indefinitely on, among other things, a trade agreement with Norway. China’s ambassador to Norway has demanded an apology from the Norwegian government, and questioned Norwegians’ trustworthiness.

Now, however, Moe has been invited to attend a ministerial meeting at a global forum’s conference that will be held in Beijing in late September to promote capture and storage of carbon to decrease emissions. Since the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) is a multilateral organization where China is only one of 24 members, another of which is Norway, it would have been difficult for Chinese authorities to refuse access to a Norwegian government minister. The CSLF meeting will be attended by several energy ministers from around the world, including Steven Chu of the US, and will include a roundtable discussion and a closed ministerial session with Chinese leaders. If Moe has a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart, it would mark the first political contact between the two countries in nearly a year, and be a breakthrough.

“If that happens, it would be positive,” Moe told DN. “But that’s up to the Chinese authorities.” Moe already has noted, for example, the potential for more business between Sinochem of China and Statoil of Norway, while other projects are waiting in the wings. There’s been more trade between the two countries so far this year, and the Chinese state bank ICBC  met with Norwegian authorities in Beijing this past spring, but the signs of Chinese pragmatism in business haven’t yet been seen in politics.

DN reported that Norway’s Foreign Ministry remains anxious over whether their Chinese counterparts will mount any obstacles to Moe’s trip prior to his departure. The Norwegian government has insisted it wants good relations with China, but has refused to issue any apology over the Peace Prize since it plays no role in who receives it. The Nobel committee’s members are supposed to reflect the political make-up of the Norwegian Parliament, but neither the Parliament nor the government has any say in who receives the prize year after year.

Moe said it was too early to have any great expectations, and Foreign Ministry staff were cautious as well. A ministry spokesperson noted to DN that Norway was invited to attend the CSLF conference as a member and that it was “natural” that the Chinese are “oriented” that Norway will participate. Norway maintains that good relations between China and Norway are in the best interests of both countries.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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