Public interest in the Dalai Lama’s visit to Oslo this week is so high that police are beefing up security measures and Members of Parliament are being warned that it will be standing-room-only at an “unofficial” reception on Friday. Norway’s government continues to endure harsh criticism over its refusal to meet with the exiled Tibetan leader, as part of highly controversial efforts to appease China.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg had to fend off more challenges this week to her decision to ignore the Dalai Lama when he arrives in Oslo on Wednesday for a three-day visit. He’s a guest of, among others, the Nobel Institute to mark the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Solberg, speaking at a press conference on Monday, claimed that her government’s refusal to meet the Dalai Lama was not motivated by economic reasons but rather by a desire to finally revive diplomatic relations and “dialogue” with China. Top-level ties between China and Norway broke off nearly four years ago, after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to another Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo. That angered Chinese officials, 21 years after the Dalai Lama had received his prize, and the Chinese have refused political contact with Norway ever since.
Denies Norway has ‘sold its soul’
Solberg responded on Monday to critics who claim Norway has “sold its soul” by favouring ties with China over visible ongoing support for the spiritual leader of Tibet who went into exile after China seized control. “The government has never taken up the economic factors involved in this,” Solberg said, denying that exports of salmon and other products to China were part of the reason for snubbing Dalai Lama. Trade with China “of course has a certain meaning,” Solberg said, but added that repairing diplomatic relations with China was the decisive factor in her government’s decision. Both Solberg and Foreign Minister Børge Brende believe it’s intolerable for Norway to have no political contact with the world’s most highly populated country.
“This has been a difficult situation for Norway, that we haven’t been able to work with China on international issues for four years,” Solberg said. Prior to 2010, when Liu’s Peace Prize was awarded, “we had ongoing dialogue with China over human rights, and Norwegian experts could help the Chinese shape a better legal system.” That ceased, “and if you’re concerned about issues like climate and human rights, and think Norway should have a voice in developments in Africa (where the Chinese are actively involved), we must have relations with China,” Solberg said.
‘China is insulting Norway’
Others maintain that the price Norway is paying to appease the Chinese is too high. After years of hearing Chinese officials claim they were insulted by Norway, some Norwegians feel China is now instead insulting Norway. “It’s a shame that Norwegian authorities don’t feel they can meet the Dalai Lama in a dignified manner,” Sigurd Lie of Spydeberg, a small town south of Oslo, wrote in a letter published in newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday. “It’s actually the super power China that is insulting Norway, by meddling and trying to control who we can speak with.”
Grassroots opposition to the Norwegian government’s decision is strong, and the Dalai Lama will be drawing packed audiences at all his appearances on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Interest among other Norwegian politicians who are not members of the government is so high that Members of Parliament have been told they’ll need to stand in line to get a chance to greet the spiritual leader of Tibet in a meeting room at the Parliament Building (Stortinget) on Friday morning.
The leaders of the Liberal Party, the Socialist Left (SV) and the Christian Democrats will all meet the Dalai Lama along with veteran MP Michael Tetzchner of the Conservatives and MPs from all other parties in Parliament. Lectures the Dalai Lama will be holding at the University of Oslo and the Folketeater sold out long ago.