UPDATED: Norway has stopped short of imposing sanctions against Israel, but been at the forefront of calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and more humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians. Now Norway has found a perhaps unusual ally in China, even though the two countries’ foreign ministers “agree to disagree” on many other issues.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide has been on a campaign of sorts lately to maintain support for Gaza’s Palestinian population. He has decried other allies’ recent cuts in support to the UN organization for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), after Israel accused 12 of UNRWA’s roughly 13,000 employees of taking part in the Palestinian Hamas organization’s attack on Israel on October 7. Norway ended up giving even more money, NOK 275 million kroner, to UNRWA (external link) in an effort to ease the ongoing suffering and “starving” among the people in Gaza and help offset the lack of funding from others.
“The situation for the people of Gaza is catastrophic, and UNRWA is the most important humanitarian organization there,” claims Eide. While Norwegian allies including the US, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands and Australia suspended their support for UNRWA, Norway refused to do so, with full support from a vast majority of the Norwegian population that also has been holding regular demonstrations against Israel’s war on Gaza.
Overall support for the people of Gaza remains strong in Norway. Norwegian organizations including Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Refugee Council and newspapers on both the left- and right sides of Norwegian politics backed the Norwegian government’s decision to continue funding UNRWA. Klassekampen called other countries’ cuts “shameful” at a time when the need for emergency aid for people in Gaza was more acute than ever, while Aftenposten editorialized that the cuts were “wrong” and “inhumane.” The entire population of Gaza should not be held accountable, both argued, for any mistakes made by a dozen accused UNRWA employees who have already been fired. That amounts to collective punishment of millions of Palestinians, more than 25,000 of whom have already been killed while most now face famine.
The Norwegian government continues to oppose calls for sanctions against Israel. Eide believes that sanctions would weaken prospects for “other initiatives” to help Gaza. He told Klassekampen that “we could end up in a situation where we in reality are doing less” for Gaza. Norway is currently urging Israel, for example, to release money earmarked for the Palestinian Authority that it has held back. “Norway has done more than most for Gaza,” Eide also told newspaper Dagsavisen, and he doesn’t want sanctions to jeopardize that.
Eide spoke out strongly, meanwhile, against Israel’s threat to send ground forces into Rafah in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians already have been forced to seek shelter after following Israeli warnings to flee the north. Gaza’s 2.2 million residents have nowhere else to go to escape Israel’s attacks, and Eide wasn’t alone in warning Israel of a bloodbath.
“Norway and many other countries, including Germany (which has long supported Israel), warn Israel against doing this,” Eide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Sunday, just before traveling to China.
Now he’s also found support for the Palestinians from the Chinese government, after meeting with China’s own foreign minister, Wang Yi, in Beijing. China, keen to keep both the Red Sea and Suez Canal open for transport and trade, confirmed its position that “without a fair solution for the Palestian problem (a land of their own), there won’t be lasting peace and stability in the Middle East.” China has also refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization and has tried to position itself as a peace broker in the Middle East, as has Norway.
Both Norway and China have been in contact with other Arab countries trying to get a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in place. China also believes that support for the UNRWA must be maintained. “That’s the most concrete thing happening now,” Eide told Norwegian news bureau NTB. They also agreed on the need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, immediate release of all hostages, an end to the recurring violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and support for the Palestinian Authority.
Eide has also claimed that it’s important “to maintain dialogue and cooperation with China on current international affairs and the global economy.” In addition to addressing the crisis in the Middle East, he and Wang also discussed climate issues and the need to strengthen international institutions.
Disagreements remain, meanwhile, between Norway and China. The two countries went through a lengthy diplomatic freeze after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded a Nobel Peace Prize to the late Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiabao. Eide said he raised the human rights issues once again while in China, where he also met with its Communist Party’s international minister Liu Jianchao and Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang.
“I encouraged Chinese authorities to adhere to their international obligations, and I raised the human rights situation in China, including in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong,” Eide said. He added that Norway would “continue our clear and predictable China policy, based on our broad range of interests including national security.” Both support multilateralism and free trade, bilateral dialogue on climate issues and more people-to-people exchanges.
There’s disagreement, however, over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which China has refused to condemn. China has also continued to support Russia economically, through imports of Russian oil and gas, while Norway and other allies have imposed sanctions against Russia.
Wang, for his part, said he thinks relations between China and Norway have become “more mature” and that both countries “show mutual respect for each other’s choices and core interests.” This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Norway and China, with both Wang and Eide agreeing to hold a series of celebrations and “intensify high-level exchanges between the two countries.”