It’s been widely claimed that China “lost face” when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded last year’s Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident. Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, now seems to be making a concerted effort to help China get it back.
In a full-page commentary in Norway’s leading business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Tuesday, Støre hailed China as “a global player, both economically and politically.” He made no apology for the Peace Prize to imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo since the prize is awarded by the Nobel Committee, not the Norwegian government, but Støre claimed the government “has listened to Chinese reactions and taken serious note of them.” Now he thinks both Chinese and Norwegian authorities “have a common responsibility to move forward with mutual respect and for the mutual benefit of both.”
Støre also praised China’s development and progress in recent decades and wrote that the Chinese authorities “deserve recognition” for the progress he deemed as being without parallel. “The development has given hundreds of millions (of people) improved living standards and more freedom,” Støre wrote. Challenges remain, internal differences are growing and there’s a great need for political, economic and social reforms, he noted, but added that Chinese leaders have stressed this themselves.
Støre further wrote that the Norwegian government has never expressed doubt over the Chinese people’s responsibility to decide their own society’s development.
In a separate interview with DN, Støre said that the current deep freeze in political relations between Norway and China is “uholdbart” (untenable, can’t last) and that both Norway and China are best served if relations between the two countries are normalized.
“The contribution I want to make, is to say that we have understood the Chinese reactions,” Støre told DN. “We recognize China’s right to develop China based on Chinese traditions. We have taken time to listen to all the messages they have come with, and the Chinese authorities shall not doubt that they are understood.”
Støre added, though, that “Norway is Norway, and they should also be clear about that. Now we should use our energy to look ahead.”
He believes that the best way to do that is “to take up political dialogue again. Today it’s not at the zero point, but not far from. That is untenable.”
Støre told DN he’s been working for the past two weeks on this new overture towards the Chinese which he hopes will be accepted so that relations can gradually be repaired. He stressed that is is “unnatural and untenable” for Norway and China to have frozen political relations, and in great contrast to the situation before the Peace Prize was announced.
Støre’s attempt to push forward relations-mending work is the third such effort to come from Norwegian officials in recent weeks. Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe went to great lengths to praise Chinese development and progress when he’d been allowed to enter China to attend an international gathering last month. Raymond Johansen, secretary of the Labour Party that dominates the government that Støre represents, also spoke out in DN to urge discussion over the composition of the Nobel Committee, to reduce confusion over its independence from the government.
Norwegian politicians realize that Norwegian business interests in China are under threat as long as the freeze in relations continues. At the same time, some Norwegian businesses including REC and Eltek have been complaining about what they consider to be unfair competition from the Chinese and worry that Norwegian government officials are reluctant to complain as well, for fear of further upsetting the Chinese. Støre has, though, indicated that Norway may approach the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with its concerns over problems getting Norwegian salmon approved for import to China.
Støre said he hopes Norwegian politicians can visit China again, “but we don’t impose ourselves if we’re not welcome.” Asked whether he personally hopes to visit China before Christmas, Støre said “gladly, if I’m welcome and if I get a visa.”
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