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Monday, June 17, 2024

China’s ambassador leaves in a freeze

Relations between Norway and China remain in a deep freeze, and China’s embassy in Oslo no longer has an ambassador in place. There’s been another rash of diplomatic snubs since Tang Guoqiang left Norway earlier this year.

China’s former ambassador to Norway, Tang Guoqiang. PHOTO: Embassy of China

Tang’s departure came 16 months after China first blamed the Norwegian government for the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in October 2010. Chinese authorities viewed the prize as a sign of disrespect for China’s legal system and interference in the country’s internal affairs.

Tang had arrived in Norway in September 2009, so had only been in the country just over a year when his government erupted in anger over the Peace Prize. It’s not unusual for embassies to be without an ambassador after their terms run out and the reasons for Tang’s departure weren’t clear, but his tenure lasted just two-and-a-half years, shorter than the terms usually held by ambassadors, amidst highly strained relations.

Now China’s embassy in Oslo is left with a charge d’affaires, Zifa Gao, and some diplomats speculate that Beijing may not send a new ambassador to Norway until its demand for an apology from the Norwegian government over the Peace Prize is met. A new ambassador would be required to present his or her credentials to King Harald V, and that may be unlikely under the current climate. A refusal to replace Tang, or a lengthy delay in replacing him, can be viewed as another Chinese snub to the Norwegian government.

Norwegian government officials, meanwhile, have stated repeatedly that they have no control over decisions made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and thus have no reason to apologize. Any apology, they note, would also undermine the traditional independence of the Nobel Committee. The diplomatic stand-off between China and Norway therefore continues.

Salmon sales take a dive
There’s been virtually no communication between top Norwegian and Chinese government officials since the prize was announced in October 2010. Tang lodged formal protests at the time, and the embassy in Oslo also launched an unsuccessful effort to boycott the Peace Prize ceremony by urging other ambassadors to stay away. Few did, and many viewed the effort as an attempt at intimidation.

China’s attempt to freeze out Norway has continued at a variety of levels, from trade and visa obstacles to refusals to arrange meetings between Norwegians and government officials. Norwegian salmon exports to China, for example, have declined dramatically. Newspaper Aftenposten reported recently how the value of Norwegian salmon sales to China has declined from NOK 400 million in 2010 to just NOK 142 million last year, even though Chinese consumers are eating more salmon. It’s being imported from Scotland instead of from Norway.

Trade talks between China and Norway were halted just after the prize announcement with no sign of resumption. That’s led Norway to focus on other growing Asian economies instead, with the government recently leading a business delegation to Indonesia, for example.

Parliament, Norges Bank cancelled trips
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported recently that delegations from both the Norwegian Parliament and Norway’s central bank dropped planned trips to China after Chinese authorities refused to arrange meetings with official counterparts.

On Friday, Norway’s Institute for Journalism (IJ) also dropped a trip to China, where they’d planned to take part in a course on business over borders, when the visa process became difficult. Participating journalists weren’t denied visas, but had to agree not to do any journalistic work while in China. They told website that they couldn’t agree to that.

China’s prime minister Wen Jiabao also avoided Norway on a recent tour around the Nordic countries and northern Europe. China remains keen, however, to win more clout and participation in Arctic issues, and then will likely need Norwegian cooperation regarding access to energy, technology, trade routes and the area itself. China’s desire to take part in potential development of the frozen far north thus may finally melt its icy attitude towards Norway at present.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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