China says its relationship with Norway will improve if the Norwegian government apologizes for giving the the Nobel Peace prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
The Norwegian government appointed an independent panel to select prize winners, and Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”. Liu is jailed in China and Chinese authorities view him as a criminal.
Growing Chinese ambitions in the Arctic have escalated the importance of a cooperative relationship between China and Norway. China is taking steps to increase its presence in discussions of Arctic matters and has applied for permanent observer status on the Arctic Council. Norway is a member state on the council, which is an intergovernmental forum for cooperation between Arctic states.
At a conference in China in August 2010, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre previously expressed support for a place for China as a permanent observer state. - Norway supports the application from China and hopes that consensus will be reached among the Arctic Council members. We also hope that China will continue to take active part in the work of the Council in its present status as an ad-hoc observer, Støre said.
Støre praised China for its pioneering research in the Arctic and spoke about the importance of collaboration between Norwegian and Chinese researchers.
China is interested in access to the region’s seasonally ice-free shipping routes and vast resources, including oil and gas. It has participated as an ad hoc observer at Arctic Council ministerial meetings in 2007 and 2009, but no decision has been made so far on China’s application for permanent observer status. Neither permanent nor ad hoc observers hold voting rights on the council, but permanent observer status would increase China’s presence in Arctic matters.
Chinese ambassador Tang Guoqiang demanded an apology for Liu’s prize while at a gathering in Bergen, Norway last weekend according to an AFP report.
Norway’s response The Norwegian government responded on Wednesday, acknowledging the Chinese authorities’ reaction to Liu’s award, but saying award decisions are independent of the Norwegian government.
- The Norwegian Government believes that it is in the best interest of both countries to maintain a good relationship and continue to cooperate in areas of mutual interest, Norwegian government spokeswoman Mart Lerberg Kopstad told AFP.
A 2010 report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, called “China Prepares for an Ice-Free Arctic” describes how the possibility of seasonally ice-free Arctic shipping routes has attracted Chinese investment in research on the High North.
The seventh annual Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting takes place later this month in Nuuk, Greenland. Challenges, opportunities and priorities for the Arctic Council are the main items listed on the agenda.
Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States make up membership of the Arctic Council, which formed in 1996. Several indigenous groups are permanent participants on the council: the Saami Council, Russian Arctic Indigenous Peoples of the North, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Gwich’in council International, Aleut International Association and the Arctic Athabaskan Council.