Mainly associated with conflict resolution, foreign assistance and cozy Scandinavian prosperity, Norway makes an odd target for China’s ire.
Yet for three years, Beijing has frozen relations with Oslo since a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), deeply embarrassing China’s leaders.
Diplomatic ties have been gutted, meetings canceled and economic ties hamstrung by an unofficial partial embargo on Norwegian salmon and a freeze on trade talks.
The protracted snit shows the lengths Beijing will go to punish other nations for offenses or perceived slights. It is one of several relentless spats China has maintained with countries as varied as Japan and Lithuania that are aimed at winning concessions and discouraging criticism.
China considers such retaliation the best way to draw attention to “issues that they consider core interests that other states do not at first easily grasp,” said Andrew Nathan, an expert on Chinese politics at New York’s Columbia University.
Yet, such fits of pique also come at a price. Maintaining a grudge against Norway over Liu reminds other countries of China’s poor human rights record, while Beijing is seeking to be taken seriously on international stage. China is seen as defining its interests all too narrowly in a way that upsets the usual give-and-take among nations, China academic Joseph Fewsmith of Boston University said.
“I think China hurts its reputation. China needs to think more about providing the public goods that maintain the international system,” Fewsmith said.
The spat with Norway entered the news again this month when the installation of a new Norwegian government offered an opportunity to end the rift. Instead, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) demanded that Norway take “concrete action to create conditions for improving and developing bilateral relations.”
“Whoever tied the ring around the tiger’s neck must untie it,” she told reporters, using a familiar Chinese expression to apportion blame.
However, China has not said what it wants Norway to do. While the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo by the parliament-appointed committee, the Norwegian government has no direct say in who gets it. At the time of Liu’s award, Beijing bitterly accused Norway of insulting China by interfering in its internal affairs and glorifying a criminal.
Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison after coauthoring a document calling for sweeping changes to China’s one-party political system. His wife has also been placed under illegal house arrest and his brother-in-law jailed on what supporters say are trumped-up fraud charges.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to respond to specific questions about China ties, but spokesman Svein Michelsen said Oslo is hopeful of better relations.
“Norway’s new foreign minister, Mr Borge Brende, has confirmed that re-establishing good relations with China is a key priority and will pursue the available opportunities toward this end,” Michelsen said.
Tsinghua University’s Institute of Modern International Relations dean Yan Xuetong (閻學通) said China expects at least some symbolic act of contrition, although he did not say exactly what form that should take.
“We find it difficult to forgive these foreigners who support [Liu’s] views insulting the Chinese people,” said Yan, whose views closely mirror those of Chinese leaders.