The Chinese embassy in Oslo apparently doesn’t think its diplomatic freeze with Norway is about to melt anytime soon. It has rejected a visiting Chinese scholar’s optimism over improving relations between the two countries, putting the responsibility for “concrete” steps towards any improvement squarely on Norway.
Officials at the embassy, or in Beijing, were clearly not pleased by remarks made by Professor Huang Jing of the National University of Singapore. Huang is viewed as an international expert on Asian studies, particularly Chinese politics, and newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported how he’s been trying to help Norway mend relations that were broken when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010.
DN followed up its report with a new story on Friday detailing sharp reaction from the Chinese embassy. In an email that was not signed, the embassy stated that the Peace Prize controversy was a “bilateral issue” between China and Norway, and that there was no need for “irresponsible” commentary or proposals from a third party (Huang).
‘Concrete’ steps needed by Norway
Huang had claimed that after five years of a diplomatic freeze, he thought both countries were heading in the right direction towards normalizing relations. He suggested the bitterness of 2010-2011, when the Chinese thought Norway had willingly insulted China Norway thought China was behaving like a “big bully,” had eased. China’s “immature” reaction as a superpower was over-politicized, he thought, but now China could see that its reaction not only damaged the bilateral relation but also China’s own interests.
Not so, according to the Chinese embassy. The anonymous author of its email to DN cited a Chinese expression that whoever stirred up the trouble should stop it. The mail also called on Norway to take “concrete” steps so that the bilateral relation could be normalized, without detailing how that might occur.
Norway’s foreign ministry, which had viewed Huang’s assessment as “positive,” had no further comment but 76-year-old Gerhard Heiberg did. He’s a retired business executive and member of the International Olympic Committee who claims he has better contacts in China than anyone else in Norway, and he also rejected Huang’s comments.
Relations ‘worse than ever’
“Relations (between Norway and China) are not on the right track,” he told DN. “They’re worse than ever,” he added, citing his contacts in China “that go right up to the top.” While Huang said neither China nor Norway will apologize for fear of losing face, Heiberg claimed the Chinese have never expected an apology from Norway.
“I have that from top leaders in China,” Heiberg, who also has criticized the Nobel Committee’s prize to Liu, told DN. “Norway has maintained that the Nobel Committee is independent and that the Norwegian government can’t apologize for something an independent organ does. The Chinese answer that they have never asked for an apology.”
So what, asked DN, do the Chinese want from Norway?
“They want a relation where they can talk about things, and for Norway to take an initiative to get back on track,” Heiberg answered. It remained unclear, however, exactly what that “initiative” would consist of.
Heiberg also cited several “unfortunate episodes” in recent years that have worsened relations between Norway and China, including the Norwegian police intelligence unit PST’s assessment that China, along with Russia, “are the big enemies,” and how an Iranian researcher was expelled because his work with cruise missiles could benefit the Chinese military.
Heiberg went on to claim that he had the impression that Norwegian politicians don’t see any political gain from improving relations with China. Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who appointed Børge Brende as foreign minister not least because he had good contacts with China as well, would likely object strongly to that. A member of Norway’s foreign relations and defense committee, former government minister Liv Signe Navarsete, certainly did.
“I think that’s far-fetched, pure and simple,” Navarsete told DN. “Of course there would be a gain, not least for Norwegian business and cultural exchange.” DN wrote that Huang could not be reached for comment on China’s objections to his remarks.