China’s alleged Nobel demands

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The Chinese government is reportedly demanding that Norway’s government must promise to never again congratulate a dissident Chinese winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, if it wants to hold onto any hope of improving relations with the Asian superpower. A source close to the Chinese authorities told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the Norwegian government’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits Oslo this week was “good, but not good enough” to thaw the diplomatic freeze.

Trade Minister Trond Giske at a meeting on trade cooperation with his Chinese counterparts in Oslo in June. PHOTO: Næringsdepartementet

Four years have passed without any official diplomatic contact or trade agreements between Norway and China. This meeting on economic and trade cooperation in June 2010 between the then minister Trond Giske and his Chinese counterparts was one of the last before Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, causing a furious China to cut ties with Norway. For the first time, China has reportedly made concrete demands about what Norway needs to do to repair relations. PHOTO: Næringsdepartementet

China cut ties with Norway after Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo won the peace prize in 2010. NRK reported on Monday that for the first time, China had made concrete demands over what Norway must do to repair relations.

Professor Cui Hongjian leads China’s Institute for International Studies, a think tank closely tied to the Chinese authorities. He told NRK that the recent controversial refusal by the government and parliamentary president Olemic Thommessen to meet with the Dalai Lama in a bid to appease China was only a good first step. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader will arrive in Norway on Wednesday for a three-day non-official visit to mark the 25th anniversary of his own Nobel Peace Prize.

But Cui Hongjian said the Norwegian government’s refusal to meet Dalai Lama, which has sparked huge criticism both within and outside Norway, did not go far enough. China wants a guarantee from the Norwegian government that it will never again congratulate a future peace prize winner, if he or she opposes the Chinese authorities. “If they do not come with such a promise, it is difficult for China to believe that Norway is serious when they say they want better relations with China,” he said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Utenriksdepartementet) would not be drawn on whether it had officially received such demands from China. “I do not yet know about this image that has been created and I don’t think it is right to go into the dialogue that we have and the work we do at a senior level to reestablish normal contact with China,” said the ministry’s state secretary Bård Glad Pedersen. “Because to go into this work would not help, rather hurt it.”

In a study by newspaper VG, half of those surveyed responded it was cowardly of Norway’s top politicians to refuse to receive the Dalai Lama out of deference to China. Hundreds turned up to a rally outside the parliament building in Oslo last week to express support for the Peace Prize winner, and denounce politicians for going against the will of the Norwegian people.

Secret negotiations
Late last month NRK reported that secret “back channel” diplomatic negotiations had been ongoing in Oslo for six months, both at the foreign ministry and the Chinese Embassy. Norway reportedly had to meet between 10 and 14 points in order to resume formal political contact and trade agreements.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende told NRK he was not aware any “requirement list” existed, but did not deny negotiations were at a precarious stage. “Norway is in a uniquely difficult situation when it comes to the relationship with China,” he said. “I do not know of any other Western country that has not had political contact with China for four years.”

That hasn’t won Brende much sympathy or respect for what many consider kowtowing to the Chinese. Another former Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, told NRK last week that he also was disappointed in the Norwegian government for refusing to meet the Dalai Lama. “I have always had great respect for Norway,” he told NRK, adding that it was now gone.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate