China deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for successfully lifting nearly one fifth of the world population out of poverty, Norway’s richest man told a local newspaper, amid the recent controversy triggered by the Norwegian government’s decision to snub the Dalai Lama when he visited the country to commemorate his winning of the prize 25 years ago.
Stein Erik Hagen, chairman of Norwegian conglomerate Orkla ASA, on Wednesday told VG, the country’s second largest print newspaper, that China is “bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty”, an achievement “that qualifies for the Nobel Peace Prize”.
“China is constantly evolving and is about to become the world’s economic superpower,” he was quoted by the paper as saying of the country that halted negotiations on the China-Norway Free Trade Agreement (FTA) after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded its Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010.
On the same day, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Dalai Lama, received no greeting from the Norwegian government when he arrived in the country on a three-day visit to mark the 25th anniversary of his Nobel recognition, the paper reported.
In a survey conducted by VG last month, half of the respondents said it was cowardly of the Norwegian government not to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
Hagen and Orkla ASA could not be reached for comment.
Hagen and his family, whose businesses ranging from food to aluminium, have an estimated net worth of US$5.3 billion. He was named the richest in Norway and the 279th in the world in the annual ranking of billionaires by Forbes magazine.
According to the company on Thursday, Orkla ASA is “exploring the possibility” of listing its wholly-owned subsidiary Gränges AB, an aluminium products manufacturer located in both Sweden and China.
Chinese people have received Nobel recognition twice: the Dalai Lama in 1989 and jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010. The latter award triggered a diplomatic freeze between the two countries that lead to painful economic consequences.
Norway was excluded from China’s 72-hour transit visa scheme, which allows visitors from all European Union member states, Iceland and Switzerland to stay in Beijing for three days without a visa.
In addition, Norway’s share of China’s salmon market, once as high as 92 per cent, plummeted to 29 per cent last year, with mountains of Norwegian salmon left rotting at port, Agence France-Presse reported in January.
Three years into the diplomatic freeze, Norway’s former foreign minister Espen Barth Eide said last March he was “optimistic” bilateral relations could be normalised. While the FTA was still held “under negotiation”, however, China signed two similar deals with Iceland and Switzerland last year.
The Norwegian government took a step further to mend its ties with the world’s second largest economy this year. Two weeks ahead of the Dalai Lama’s recent visit, Foreign Minister Boerge Brende said his government would not meet the prize winner due to “the absolutely extraordinary situation between China and Norway” that lacks “any real political contact” for several years.
Meawhile, China’s foreign ministry, which in December condemned his visit, said during a daily news briefing that China “resolutely opposes any foreign country providing a platform or convenience for the Dalai Lama’s splittist words and acts and opposes him meeting any foreign leader”.
The Nobel Peace Price, first issued in 1901 together with another four awards (for chemistry, physics, medicine and literature), is presented annually by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
The committee of five is appointed by the Storting, Norway’s parliament, but current Storting members are barred from sitting on it.
According to the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel, the prize should go to whoever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
In 2012, the committee presented the award to the European Union, which it said “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe”.
No single country has been named as winner of the peace prize so far.
This year, Yuan Longping, the “father of hybrid rice” who played a key role in the threefold increase of China’s rice output from 4,500 kilograms per hectare in the 1970s to 13,500 kilograms per hectare in 2011, is nominated.
The committee will choose from among a record number of nominations including 231 individuals and 47 organisations and the winner of the prize will be announced on October 10.