In 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The award sparked a diplomatic conflict between China and Norway – a conflict unparalleled in modern China’s relations with Western countries. But just before Christmas 2016 came the message many have long hoped for : Prime Minister Solberg has been invited to visit China and free trade negotiations between the two countries have resumed. The dispute thus seems to cease and the ice to be broken.
- What was the reason for the bad relationship between Norway and China?
- Was the relationship equally bad in all fields?
- What was left on each of the pages?
- Could a Nordic platform have helped Norway out of disability?
At the same time, it is clear that the six years of conflict emphatically highlight some of the challenges small states face in a multipolar world where economic, political and normative power is changing rapidly and strongly.
The relationship between Norway and China illustrates two key factors in the Nordic countries’ relations with China: It demonstrates the benefits that economic and cultural co-operation with China can bring. It also illustrates a fundamental dilemma in the Nordic countries’ relations with China: How should the countries best deal with value issues when Chinese ” core interests ” come into conflict with domestic liberal principles?
In the relationship between Norway and China, the strong trade complementarity – they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses within different parts of the economy – between the two countries has nevertheless limited the economic damaging effects.
2: Cooperation and strife for 60 years
Norway and the other Nordic countries were among the first to recognize the People’s Republic of China – as early as January 7, 1950. Immediately afterwards, however, Norway abstained from voting on whether the People’s Republic should become a member of the UN. It perceived China as a violation. Together with the tensions surrounding the outbreak of the Korean War, this led to Norway and China establishing diplomatic relations only four years later.
Under Mao’s rule, ties between China and Norway were rather limited and unfolded with the Cold War as a backdrop. In 1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At the same time, China cracked down very hard on domestic political opposition . Relations between Norway and China then became particularly tense.
Eventually the mood calmed down, and China continued its economic liberalization . Norway and China then established a robust relationship with each other throughout the 1990s and in the 2000s. At the same time as China’s progress made the country an increasingly important international player, the two countries developed a relationship that both considered to be close and dynamic. Among other things, an annual human rights dialogue took place from 1997, and negotiations on a free trade agreement began in 2008.
The political relationship between Norway and China developed positively into the new millennium and in many ways formed part of a broader Nordic pattern : small, Nordic countries were met with a great deal of interest from China, including a relatively high level of contact. political level. China showed interest in Norway’s welfare system, the country’s position in the Arctic , and not least Norwegian high-tech expertise. This complemented (complemented) the labor-intensive Chinese economy in a way that both parties could benefit from.
In addition, Norway’s position outside the EU made the country a suitable Chinese springboard for political initiatives that could later form the basis for deeper relations with the EU. The boom in China, which really took off after the country joined the WTO in 2001 , contributed significantly to the upswing in the Norwegian economy in the same period. Not least, it contributed to higher oil prices on the world market.
Culturally, relations were also strengthened during this period, and both governments actively supported a number of initiatives for cultural exchange . From time immemorial, there has been great mutual interest in cultural exchange between Norway and China; from the Norwegian bourgeoisie’s fascination with “Chinese series” in the 19th century, to China’s persistent love for Henrik Ibsen. There he was named one of 50 foreigners with the greatest influence on modern China. Chinese authorities opened a Confucius Institute in Bergen in 2008 as part of spreading Chinese culture, language and sports traditions, and the Norwegian Embassy and Consulates in China have long promoted cultural initiatives, from architectural exhibitions to concerts. These are important measures to contribute to international understanding .
Both sides have continued the cultural exchange , despite the problems that arose after the Peace Prize award in 2010. While the number of Chinese students in Norway has increased sharply in recent years, however, Norway has struggled to get Norwegian students to China (279 Norwegians in China in 2014-2015) . It seems that the problems in the relationship with China have been reflected in declining interest in China among Norwegian students. The fact that Chinese competence in Norway has eroded in recent years is a very unfortunate long-term effect of the poor Norwegian-Chinese relationship.
3: “Interference in Home Affairs”
Economic interests and cultural exchange brought the two countries closer together in the 2000s. Nevertheless, China continued to worry that the Nobel Committee would once again award the Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident. The Chinese explicitly emphasized the negative consequences an allocation would have for Norwegian-Chinese relations. The Norwegian Nobel Committee then decided in 2010 to award the Nobel Prize to the imprisoned Chinese dissident Lui Xiaobo . It was awarded for his “long-standing and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
The Chinese government reacted angrily to the award and the Norwegian government’s traditional endorsement of the Nobel Committee’s decision. They argued that the award to a convicted criminal in China constituted a serious interference in China’s internal political and judicial affairs . A Chinese political boycott of Norway was decided and immediately noticeable. All scheduled political meetings were canceled. The human rights dialogue and the negotiations on the soon-to-be-concluded free trade agreement were put on hold, and it became more challenging to obtain a visa to China.
For six years after the award, Norway and China had no bilateral political contact . The extent of the political boycott was quite unique and reflects how determined the Chinese authorities are to deter other countries from interfering in issues they consider very important for the survival of the party system. In 2015, however, Norway was accepted by China as one of the founders of the Asian Investment Bank (established by China). Together with the fact that China with Norwegian support was included as an observer in the Arctic Council, it shows that Beijing can still engage Norway in multilateral institutions, if it is considered to be of service to China.
From the very beginning, both parties considered the other party to be responsible for correcting the relationship between them. More importantly, both China and Norway considered the disputes to be directly relevant to fundamental principles in their respective political systems. This makes it difficult to reach a compromise. The awarding of the Peace Prize to a dissident challenges China’s stated fundamental interest in maintaining the one – party state’s political governance and judicial system. The country has often reiterated that its foreign policy is built around three basic “core interests” :
- maintain state security and political system
- preserve China’s territorial sovereignty and indivisibility
- maintain economic growth.
Thus, the Dalai Lama’s Peace Prize in 1989 was already a serious blow to the second core interest. In addition, in 2010 it was followed up with an equally serious attack on core interest number one. According to WATCHTUTORIALS.ORG, China’s unusually strong political sanctions must thus be understood in the light of how the Nobel Committee’s awards – they were understood as official Norwegian actions by the Chinese – were perceived as an estimate of vital principles for Beijing. Furthermore, this happened at a time when the Chinese authorities, especially in the period after 2008, have put more pressure on other countries to abide by these principles.
For Norway, the Nobel Committee has long been a symbol of Norwegian commitment to liberal political values. Furthermore, the Nobel Committee’s official (formal) independence from state power touches on fundamental principles for the relationship between government and civil society. For the Norwegian public, the Liu Xiaobo case thus deals not only with a imprisoned dissident, but also with entrenched ideals of universal human rights , freedom of expression and the role of civil society. In 2015, Foreign Minister Børge Brende summarized Norwegian foreign policy’s five main lines : values, security, economic interests, global development and climate change. This summary showed that the situation with China had complicated most of these lines.
In the last six years’ relations between Norway and China, the promotion of values and the promotion of Norwegian economic interests have been in direct conflict with each other. At the same time, China is an increasingly important partner in contributing to development and poverty reduction as well as indispensable in combating global warming. Being excluded from effective dialogue with such a significant global player has thus also been extremely problematic on several other important fronts for Norwegian foreign policy.
4: Attempt to solve the tangle
Various Norwegian governments have through several channels made efforts to resolve the diplomatic knot. The then Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre published a column intended as an outstretched hand in 2011; this was not met with any visible softening. The Solberg government was met with massive criticism in Norway for the Prime Minister not meeting the Dalai Lama when he visited Norway in 2014. The rejection was justified as a “necessary sacrifice to show China that being in dialogue with them is important”.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister herself stated that one should not take for granted that she would congratulate all future prize winners. It is suggested that both of these formalities are among Chinese demands for the resumption of political relations. But there have also been incidents after 2010 that have worsened the relationship. Among these, a threat assessment was published by the Police Security Service in 2015. In it, China was identified as a “potential” cyber security threat. Later, a Chinese student was also found expelled on espionage charges .
Particularly worth noting is an attempt in 2013 to solve the tangle. The proposal became known after a leak in 2014 and was inspired by Denmark’s solution on the Chinese ice front after they received the Dalai Lama. The core of the negotiated proposal (under Espen Barth Eide) was based on the fact that in addition to the official statements, a secret “non-note” was to be sent to China with a text that China could interpret as an apology. However, this solution was stopped by the then Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg because – according to the sources – he considered the content and secrecy to be incompatible with Norwegian political values.
In similar cases of problematic bilateral relations, the countries’ economic interests are often a main driver of rapprochement. It must still be pointed out that even though Norway has suffered financially as a result of the awarding of the Peace Prize in 2010, the economic consequences have been considerably less than feared . This may in fact have contributed to prolonging the political ice front between China and Norway. This means that the economic actors have not felt too urgent a need to influence in the direction of a quick solution to the diplomatic disability.