Carter: ‘China is making a mistake’

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Former US President and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter has promised to urge China to normalize relations with Norway when he meets with China’s president later this year. Carter flatly stated that China is making a “serious mistake” by subbing Norway after a Chinese dissident won the Nobel Peace Prize four years ago.

Former US President Jimmy Carter (center) has been in Norway several times, here in distinguished company with "The Elders" group including Bishop Desmond Tutu and former Norwegian Premier Gro Harlem Brundtland. Now he thinks it's time for Chinese leaders to bury the hatchet and start talking again with their Norwegian counterparts. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Former US President Jimmy Carter (center) has been in Norway several times, here in distinguished company with “The Elders” group including Bishop Desmond Tutu and former Norwegian Premier Gro Harlem Brundtland. Now he thinks it’s time for Chinese leaders to bury the hatchet and start talking again with their Norwegian counterparts. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Carter was in Norway last week to attend the Oslo Forum, which annually attracts peace brokers from around the world. In remarks after the Oslo Forum meeting, Carter clearly thinks China is long overdue in making peace with Norway.

“I think it’s a serious mistake for China to have strained relationships with a government of the people of Norway, just because we gave this Nobel Laureate this position and this honour,” Carter told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). By using the term “we,” Carter seemed to be referring to the world’s elite group of Nobel Peace Prize Winners. And by “this Nobel Laureate,” Carter was referring to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident and human rights activist who remains in prison in China. He was also jailed when he won his Nobel Peace Prize, and was not allowed to travel to Oslo to receive it.

‘Finest government in the world’
With the Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende standing by, Carter went on to say that “I’ll promise here in the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs that when I meet (Chinese President) Xi Jinping (this fall) that I’ll bring Norway up with him, and encourage him one more time to have normal relationships with what is maybe the finest government in the world.”

That must have been music to the ears of Brende and his Norwegian colleagues, who have been frustrated over China’s refusal to resume diplomatic relations with Norway. China broke off all top-level political contact with Norway shortly after the Peace Prize to Liu was announced in October 2010. Even though the prize is awarded by the independent Norwegian Nobel Committee, China blamed Norway itself for its loss of face, and was furious that the Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to someone they view as a criminal.

Carter, widely viewed as a respected elder statesmen and peace negotiator, won the Peace Prize himself in 2002. He said he already has taken up the issue of the Nobel Prize to Liu with Chinese officials in earlier meetings. He said he’ll more than gladly do it again.

Business as usual
Meanwhile, trade and investment between Norway and China have increased despite China’s Nobel snub, and the number of Chinese tourists visiting Norway has soared just in the past two years. Even though many Norwegian businesses worry about how China’s diplomatic freeze may affect them, a recent series of articles in newspapers Dagens Næringsliv (DN) and Aftenposten reported no major negative consequences.

Random Chinese tourists interviewed by Aftenposten claimed they had no idea there was any political tension between Norway and China, while the chief economist at DNB Markets said that statistics show “China has definitely not locked the door on Norway.” Business trends and rising trade have generally continued as before the Nobel Peace Prize ruckus began.

Researcher Bjørnar Sverdrup-Thygerson of the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI studied trends in trade, investment and salmon exports to China. Overall exports to China rose 20 percent in 2011, the year after the Peace Prize was awarded, while Norwegian and Chinese firms agreed more contracts after the prize than before. Some Norwegian companies report slower bureaucracy and less cooperation in China, but no crisis. Salmon exports took a dive, but have since recovered, with much of the fish sent to Vietnam. It’s unclear how much of it is sent on to China from Vietnam, but demand for Norwegian salmon in China is believed to still be high.

“When we mention the Peace Prize, the Chinese don’t react at all,” Leif Bronken, marketing director of large Norwegian company Raufoss, told DN. “I’ve never noticed anything negative from the Chinese because we’re Norwegians.” Some Chinese officials recently in Norway to visit Statoil claimed that “no one in China cares” about the Peace Prize. “There shouldn’t be any political influence on business connections,” Wu Minwen, chairman of a large Chinese investment fund, told DN. “I only care about the investment and business profitability.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund