China has demanded a public apology from Norwegian authorities.
[01.10.2011, 04:37pm, Sat. GMT]
One lunch. That is the sum total of political activity between Norway and China in the past year wrote NRK. The current state of relations between Norway and China remain cool since Torbjorn Jagland announced Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Chinese authorities responded by condemning the award, calling the Norwegian ambassador on the carpet and demanding a public apology from Norwegian authorities.
Million NOK Agreement is on ice
The Free Trade Agreement between Norway and China was about to come to take root last year after a series of positive meetings. However, scheduled meetings in December of 2010 were cancelled and there has been a complete standstill in negotiations. Up to that point, Norway was close to becoming one of the first countries in Europe with an agreement on Chinese tariff reductions. Such an agreement would give Norway a great deal of international prestige. Just last year, China paid 63 million in customs duties for Norwegian salmon products, according to the Norwegian Seafood Export Council .
Since 1997, Norway has held an annual official Human Rights Dialogue with China. The last Dialogue was in June of 2010.
Hilde Steinfeld of the Foreign Ministry reported to NRK.no that, “Dialogue on Human Rights has been an important part of bilateral cooperation. The MR-dialogue has not been held since last year,”
There has been only one meeting between Chinese and Norwegian Ministers. This happened last week in Beijing when Oil and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe had lunch with Xie Zhenhua , Vice Chairman of the Commission on National Development and Reform. Petroleum and Energy also recently held a meeting with the Chinese Embassy.
In an email sent to NRK.no, Martha Lerberg Kopstad, Communications Advisor at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “After the peace prize last year there have been cancellations of visits at the political level to and from China, and new bilateral political visits have not yet taken place. Some working level visits have been cancelled and there is an overall general decrease in the number of meetings.
The list of cancellations at the political level is long:
Shortly after the Peace Prize announcement, two planned meetings in Beijing between Minister of Fisheries, Lisbeth Berg-Hansen and Deputy Minister for Food Safety were cancelled. The Chief of Defence's visit to China, which was scheduled for November 2010, was postponed at the request of the Chinese. A bilateral meeting between Erik Solheim and a Chinese Minister in Mexico last December was cancelled. Oil and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe participated recently at the Climate Conference in Beijing Ola Borten Moe did not meet with official representatives from China. The Norwegian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Family and Cultural Affairs had to cancel a planned visit in March. On advice from the Foreign Ministry, The Finance Committee cancelled its visit to China this fall, where the plan, among other things, was to discuss the volatile situation in the world’s economy.
The Chinese government called off a series of delegation visits this year from the Supreme Court, Military and Police Forces and Civil Service.
The Foreign Ministry stressed that there is still technical and professional activity between China and Norway and that the Chinese seem willing to proceed with these activities. However, even at lower political and occupational levels, troubles have arisen this past year.
The trade union movement has noticed friction. A visit between the ‘Retail and Office’ regional trade union organization ACFTU was cancelled in Guangxi this past May.
Retail and Office manager, Sture Arntzen stated in March, “The Chinese government has instructed that no official delegations will travel to Norway in 2011.”
Typically, most Norwegians are granted visas to China. That practice has been tightened. According to Managing Director Anne Krogh of China Travel, regulations are stricter than before.
Express visa, multiple-entry visa and date of entry into Beijing are becoming increasingly rare.
“The embassy used to be more flexible in interpreting the rules. We are now seeing greater enforcement. We see a clear connection to the Peace Prize, and have communicated to the embassy we feel this is improper,” says Krogh to NRK.no.
The processing time for adoption applications to China has increased over the past year.
Minister of Trade and Industry, Trond Giske, expressed optimism several times this year about future relations with China including further negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement. Giske said he believes the Chinese will eventually get a foothold in Norway. When NRK.no asked the Minister for his assessment of Trade with China last year he stated, “There was so little it does not require a comment.”
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, is travelling and could not comment on the matter.
One year of “state of emergency’
Chinese expert, Henning Kristoffersen, informed NRK.co that Norway’s relationship with China is in a state of emergency. There is no contact, and a full year of high-level political stagnation is bad. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the “state of emergency’ is becoming the norm for relations between Norway and China. It is certainly not good for Norwegian business in China.
Statistics cannot measure all the consequences of this silence. We miss out on innovations. It is difficult to get Chinese VIP’s to recognize celebrations such as the opening of a new business.
A ‘worst-case scenario’ is that the finest Chinese students and leaders will choose to work with companies that are not Norwegian. At that point, cultural and business activities will suffer.
The Norwegian Embassy in China has been careful since last October not to comment on the inflamed situation. NRK.no is unable to get in touch with Norway's ambassador to China, Svein O. Sæther, who is traveling.
The Chinese Ambassador to Norway, Tang Guoqiang, said during a meeting in Bergen last May that he believed China required an official apology from Norwegian authorities.