Norway’s Tibet Committee announced over the weekend that it was “disappointed” by the Norwegian government’s refusal to receive the Dalai Lama when he arrives in Oslo for a visit next week. Chinese authorities, meanwhile, remained mostly silent on what amounts to the government’s attempt to appease China and restore diplomatic relations.
The Norwegian Tibet Committee said in a press release issued Saturday that it “understood” it was difficult for the government to evaluate a meeting with Dalai Lama, but it was “disappointed over the decision and the reason.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Børge Brende confirmed Friday that neither they nor any member of their Conservatives-led government would meet with Dalai Lama for fear of further upsetting China. Restoration of the formal diplomatic relations that froze four years ago, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, was more important than showing any further sign of their earlier support for the long-exiled leader of Tibet.
“We must avoid making relations between Norway and China even worse,” Brende told newspaper Aftenposten, after noting in Parliament that Norway is in an “extraordinary situation” because there’s been “no real political contact” between Norway and China for several years. While business goes on between the two countries (apart from disruption in Norwegian salmon exports) and more Chinese tourists than ever stream into Norway, Chinese officials refuse to meet their Norwegian counterparts. That’s what the government hopes to end, arguing that it’s in Norway’s best interests to placate China. Norwegian officials can’t make much international progress on issues such as climate, trade or even human rights, they contend, if China continues to ignore them.
The Dalai Lama was invited to Norway by the Nobel Institute, the Norwegian Tibet Committee and Karma Tashi Ling to celebrate the 25th anniversary of receiving his own Nobel Peace Prize. His prize also infuriated China’s authoritarian leaders back in 1989, when they also violently struck down a huge people’s protest of the Chinese government at Tiananmen Square. Chinese officials have blamed the Norwegian government for their international humiliation and tried to punish Norway ever since.
Public opinion polls in Norway show that a majority of Norwegians, though, is as disappointed in their own government as the Tibet Committee is, calling their politicians “cowards” for failing to stand up to China’s “bullying.” Media commentators accuse the Norwegian government of failing to maintain their principles on Tibet and seek to end what they consider China’s occupation of Tibet. Leaders for the Tibet Committee noted on Saturday that the human rights situation in Tibet is worse than it’s been for many years. The committee claims it’s more important than ever for the world to show its support for Tibet.
No appreciation in Beijing
The Norwegian government’s decision to snub the Dalai Lama thus makes it unpopular at home, but China wouldn’t express any appreciation on Monday for the Norwegian government’s gesture. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that a spokesman for the Chinese government acknowledged that they had “noted the latest move by the Norwegian side” but were still awaiting “concrete measures” to improve relations.
There’s been no confirmation of what such “concrete measures” may include. China appears to finally have given up its initial demand for an official apology for the Peace Prize from Norway, but still seems to hold the government responsible for the decisions of the independent Nobel Committee. NRK reported last week that China has made other tough demands, including one for a guarantee that the committee will never award a Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident again. The government has no means of “instructing” the prize committee, however, and it would be shocking if it tried.
Full program in Oslo
So the standoff continues. Meanwhile, several other leaders of political parties in Norway and Members of Parliament will meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits from May 7-9. He will spend all of Wednesday at the Norwegian Nobel Institute and after lunch with members of the Nobel Committe and the institute’s director, he’ll meet for a “round-table conference” with selected media.
A lecture to be given by Dalai Lama on mindfulness, scheduled for Thursday morning at the Universuty of Oslo’s student union complex Chateau Neuf, sold out long ago and will be followed by a meeting with students. He will also meet with the president of the Sami Parliament, Aili Keskitalo.
On Friday, the Dalai Lama will visit the Nobel Peace Center and meet with students from some local high schools. In the afternoon he will meet the public at the Folketeatret and deliver a speech entitled “Cultivating Compassion in Everyday Life.”