Norway and China resume diplomatic ties after 2010 row over Nobel peace prize going to dissident

The two sides spent three years in talks to rebuild trust, Norwegian foreign minister says, although no word on fate of stalled free-trade agreement

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 11:04pm

Norway and China have resumed diplomatic relations and negotiations on a free-trade agreement, ending a six-year diplomatic freeze caused by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende told the South China Morning Post that officials from the two nations spent three years in talks to put their relations back on track.

“Three years is a long time, but when we had rebuilt trust fully then we can go public today,” he said, following a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.

But Brende said the awarding of the prize to Liu Xiaobo in 2010 was not among topics discussed with Chinese officials. Liu, a dissident writer, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power”.

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“We have been looking forward, discussed opportunities for cooperation and building trust – that has been our conversation,” he said.

Wang said Norway had made “deep reflections” on the reasons for obstacles facing the Sino-Norway relations and held “solemn consultations” with China on improving ties, a foreign ministry statement quoted him as saying in a meeting with Brende.

A joint declaration issued after their talks said the Norwegian government was committed to the one China policy, and would not support actions that undermined China’s core interests. It said the Norwegian government was “fully conscious” of the Chinese position over Liu receiving the award.

Premier Li Keqiang also met Brende, calling on both nations to enhance mutual political trust and respect each other’s core interests.

According to Norwegian media, China had demanded an official apology over awarding Liu the prize in order to restore ties, but Norway refused, saying the Nobel committee was an independent body free to make its own decision.

Liu could not join the ceremony as he was still in jail, and his absence was poignantly symbolised by an empty chair.

“We haven’t made any concessions but we have engaged in confidence-building work over a long period of time,” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.

Brende said it was difficult to say when negotiations on the free-trade agreement could be concluded.

The process was halted after Liu was given the award.

“We have to go through a lot of documents, also items, but this will be very important for Chinese jobs and jobs in Norway,” Brende said. “Both China and Norway to my understanding believe in free trade ... I think this is also sending a strong global signal.”

Bilateral trade between the two nations reached US$10 billion in 2015, and Norway has said it welcomes China as a partner in efforts to develop Arctic energy resources.

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Beijing has also imposed restrictions on imports of Norwegian salmon, citing worries that the fish may carry disease. Shares in some of Norway’s biggest fisheries stocks rose on back of the announcement of the rapprochement, Bloomberg reported.

Cui Hongjian, a European affairs expert at the China Institute of International Studies, said a free-trade deal would benefit both nations.

“China is worried that the tide of protectionism will recur in Europe and badly affect Sino-European trade and investment relations,” Cui said. “China must actively promote free trade after Donald Trump won the US presidential election and advocated a protectionist agenda.”

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang and Agence France Presse