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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Ministerial chat in China after all

Norway’s currently controversial Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe became the first top government official in nearly a year to be admitted to China and not be ignored. Moe was even placed next to a Chinese minister at a luncheon, and claimed the two had a “long and good” conversation.

Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe had never been to China before, until this week. PHOTO: Center Party

Moe traveled to China to attend the ministerial portion of a conference of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF), a multilateral organization to promote capture and storage of carbon to decrease emissions. It’s being attended by energy ministers from around the world but Norwegian officials were nearly holding their collective breath over whether Moe’s trip could take place as planned. Ever since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded last year’s Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, the Chinese government has all but refused to have any political relations with the Norwegian government. Chinese officials haven’t been willing to accept the Norwegian government’s claims that it has no influence over who wins the Peace Prize.

Now there seems to have been a mini-breakthrough of sorts. Moe’s lunchtime encounter with Chinese minister Xie Zhenhua in Beijing marked the first contact between Norway and China at the political level since last autumn.

“I sat at lunch with the Chinese negotiations leader Xie,” Moe told news bureau NTB. “We had a long and good conversation. He knew a lot about Norway, and we touched on many relations between Norway and China.”

Asked whether their conversation is a signal that the diplomatic freeze between Norway and China had thawed, Moe said he “didn’t have the competence” to make such an evaluation.

Praising China, irritating the environmentalists
Moe, meanwhile, had raved about China in Thursday’s edition of newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), which is covering his trip to Beijing. Moe praised China for, among other things, being a “motor” in an exhausted world economy, providing demand and higher prices for raw materials, and for tackling poverty and developing new technology to help fight climate change.

But Moe, who’s been at odds with the environmental movement in Norway, managed to once again irritate environmental activists at home by claiming that the only way to meet the world’s energy needs and tackle the climate threat is by using cleaner coal. China is a major consumer of coal and Moe backs efforts to open a new coal mine on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

“The dirty, unavoidable truth is that the world will be fired by coal for the foreseeable future,” Moe told DN during what is his first trip to China. That prompted environmental advocate Frederic Hauge of Bellona to call such claims “imprecise” and suggest that Moe has “given up the climate battle.”

Salmon and visa trouble
Tensions clearly remain between the two countries, despite Moe’s professed admiration for China. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, in New York for meetings at the UN, told TV2 that Norway may file a complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over claims it’s disrupting salmon imports from Norway. And several journalists and researchers are complaining over China’s refusal to issue them visas, preventing them from working in the country. Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten is highly upset that its reporter Kristoffer Rønneberg wasn’t allowed to travel with Moe to China, as DN and VG were, because his visa application was rejected.

After repeated attempts to get an explanation from the Chinese Embassy in Oslo, a consular officer sent Views and News a brief e-mail Thursday afternoon saying that “as for the visa application of Mr Kristoffer Roenneberg, the Consular Section of the Embassy hasn’t got authorization from Beijing.”

Researcher Harald Bøckman, who has followed China closely over the years, has also been denied visas with no explanation. He complained in Aftenposten on Thursday that Norway’s foreign ministry is “much too passive” in taking up the problem with Chinese authorities, and Hilde Haugsgjerd, editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, urged Norway’s foreign ministry to take up the issue as well. A ministry spokesperson has said they’ll investigate, while Moe’s staff claimed they did try to help Aftenposten and called the lack of a visa for Rønneberg “regrettable.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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