CIVIL RIGHTS

Norway’s government tried to dissuade committee from awarding Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo Nobel Peace Prize, official alleges

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 September, 2015, 3:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 September, 2015, 3:07pm

Norway’s government tried to dissuade the Nobel Peace Prize committee from awarding the prize to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010, according to a book written by the panel’s former secretary.

Historian Geir Lundestad recounts in his memoir Secretary of Peace some of the backstage goings-on inside the Norwegian Nobel Committee during his time as its influential, but non-voting, secretary from 1990 to 2015.

Lundestad said then foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store tried to dissuade the panel from awarding the prize to a Chinese dissident, fearing it would put a strain on Norway’s relations with Beijing.

“During my 25 years [on the committee], I don’t ever recall seeing anything like that,” Lundestad said.

READ MORE: Norway running short of options as it tries to improve ties with China

Beijing had warned relations with the oil-rich Scandinavian nation of five million people would suffer when Liu was declared winner of the peace prize for his calls for political change in China. Talks on a trade pact stalled in the ensuing years and veterinary controls on importing Norwegian salmon were also stepped up.

The Nobel committee, which fiercely guards its independence from the politics of power, ignored the minister’s warnings and honoured Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, which has left Oslo’s ties with Beijing frozen ever since.

Store has denied the allegations. “I never tried to influence Jagland in his role as head of the Nobel committee,” he told the news agency NTB.

It is rare for Nobel officials to discuss the proceedings of the secretive committee or publicly criticise each other. Lundestad stepped down last year after 25 years as the non-voting secretary of the secretive committee.

READ MORE: Chinese 'princelings' push for release of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo

The former secretary also revealed in his book that the White House asked if US President Barack Obama really had to travel to Oslo to pick up his surprise Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

“No Nobel Peace Prize ever elicited more attention than the 2009 prize to Barack Obama,” Lundestad wrote.

The first black president was honoured with the prestigious award just nine months after taking office, while the US was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The announcement was met with general astonishment and some sarcasm, while Obama himself admitted his own “surprise”.

At that point “his cabinet had already asked whether anyone had previously refused to travel to Oslo to receive the prize,” Lundestad said.

“In broad strokes, the answer was no.”

Obama ultimately made a lightning visit to the Scandinavian country to collect the prize.

Lundestad said he didn’t disagree with the decision to award the president, but the committee “thought it would strengthen Obama and it didn’t have this effect”.

Meanwhile, Lundestad recalled how he caught Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who shared the 1994 prize with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres, in front of the TV in his hotel room watching an episode of the cartoon Tom and Jerry with other PLO leaders.

“It was made very clear that they intended to watch until the end,” he said.

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Lundestad also fired a parting shot at Thorbjorn Jagland who was the committee chairman for six years and is now a regular member.

Lundestad said that as a former Norwegian prime minister and sitting head of the Council of Europe human rights organisation, Jagland should never have been appointed to the committee, which frequently emphasises its independence.

Jagland declined to comment, said Daniel Holtgen, his spokesman at the Council of Europe.

The five members of the Nobel committee, often former politicians, are appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on October 9.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press