Norway just recently established normal ties with China after a six-year break. But in order to do so, the Norwegian government had to embrace the Chinese development model and social system, as well as the ‘one China’ framework.
Since 2010, Norway barely had any diplomatic relations with China, due to the fact that Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year. The Chinese government demanded an apology from Norway, together with a guarantee that the prize was never to be awarded to a Chinese activist again.
But since the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee is an independent institution, the Norwegian government was in no position to issue neither an apology nor a guarantee. Nevertheless, China decided to punish Norway by immediately shelving a free-trade agreement that was being negotiated.
Chinese officials also stopped visiting the Norwegian embassy in Beijing, and its ambassador no longer received invitations to diplomatic events. Visas became harder to obtain for Norwegian tourists and professionals alike, and a range of exchanges in different fields was canceled with haste.
However, in late December last year, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende suddenly appeared in Beijing to announce that the two countries were resuming normal diplomatic and trade relations. Negotiations on the free-trade agreement started again, much to the joy of the Norwegian Seafood Council, which estimates salmon exports to China to increase twentyfold in the coming years. The joy was shared by the tourism industry and the business sector alike.
It was also shared, obviously, by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who acknowledged that the strained relationship what China had not only weakened Norway’s trade but also its say in global politics, since China has been throwing its weight around to marginalize Norwegian influence in several international organizations.
But there is no such thing as a free lunch. When declaring the re-establishment of ties with China, Brende also had to present a two-page joint declaration that included passages like: “The Norwegian government reiterates its commitment to the One China Policy, fully respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, attaches high importance to China’s core interests and major concerns, will not support actions that undermine them, and will do its best to avoid any future damage to the bilateral relations.”
“The Norwegian government reiterates its commitment to the One China Policy, fully respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, attaches high importance to China’s core interests and major concerns, will not support actions that undermine them, and will do its best to avoid any future damage to the bilateral relations.”
Hence, after Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taipei, China has not only engaged in checkbook diplomacy, as was the case when Sao Tomé & Principe switched diplomatic allegiance in late December. It is also demanding leading democracies to embrace the “one China” policy to atone for ”mistakes” made years ago in totally unrelated policy issues.
William Nygaard, chairman of PEN Norwegian Center, criticized the fact that the two-page joint statement doesn’t include a single word about human rights. John Peder Egenaes, general secretary for Amnesty International Norway, finds this particularly strange given that human rights is a Norwegian foreign policy priority — especially the support of human rights champions. “This policy,” Egenaes said, “has to apply to China, as much as to any other place.”
Stein Ringen, a Norwegian political scientist and professor at Oxford University, even branded the event as “an outright humiliation” to Norway, accusing his country’s politicians of surrendering to China’s demands. Ringen is particularly worried about terms like “territorial integrity” and “core interests” in the joint declaration, which he means de facto constitutes a “formal acceptance” from Norway not only regarding Taiwan, but also China’s claims in South China Sea, which was ruled illegal by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last summer.
While in Beijing, Foreign Minister Brende said that resumption of normal relations with China was made possible only after long-time and laborious diplomatic efforts. Those “laborious efforts” seems to have begun almost immediately when his Conservative Party assumed power after the 2013 elections, replacing the prior left-center coalition. Already later the same year seven pillars from the imperial Summer Palace, brought to Norway over 100 years ago by a Norwegian cavalry officer, were returned to China.
And when the Dalai Lama was invited to Norway in 2014 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to celebrate his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize 25 years earlier, conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg refused to meet with him, as did every single member of Solberg’s government. Due to warnings from China, His Holiness was not even allowed in to the Norwegian Parliament’s formal reception room, despite the room being empty during the time of his visit.
The two-page joint agreement signed by the conservative government also states that Norway “fully respects China’s development path and social system, and highly commends its historic and unparalleled development that has taken place.” For good measure, the declaration further highlights that Norway is “fully conscious of the position and concerns of the Chinese side” concerning the Nobel Peace Prize.
Alas, just short of a formal apology, China managed to get everything it wanted from the Norwegian government. In fact, the two-page joint statement can arguably be seen as an apology by diplomatic language, for an independent committee’s decision to reward a peaceful activist, who is still to this day behind bars while his wife is enduring a strict house arrest.
As if that was not already enough, China added insult to injury by using the Norwegian resignation for propaganda purposes. At the time of the declaration, foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Norway understood how bilateral relations could be improved only after “deep reflections” and “solemn consultations” with China.
“Norway has paid its price due to its intervention in Chinese domestic affairs,” the party mouthpiece Global Times mused, before summing up the case with the following observation: “Norway has a population of merely 4 million, but it tried to teach China, a country with 1.4 billion people a lesson in 2010. It was a ridiculous story.”