Why Is China Snubbing Norway?

By Christopher Beam

BEIJING (AP) -- Mainly associated with conflict resolution, foreign assistance and cozy Scandinavian prosperity, Norway makes an odd target for China's ire.

Yet for three years, Beijing has frozen relations with Oslo since a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, deeply embarrassing China's leaders. Diplomatic ties have been gutted, meetings canceled and economic ties hamstrung by an unofficial partial embargo on Norwegian salmon and a freeze on trade talks.

The protracted snit shows the lengths Beijing will go to punish other nations for offenses or perceived slights. It's one of several relentless spats China has maintained with countries as varied as Japan and Lithuania, aimed at winning concessions and discouraging criticism.

China considers such retaliation the best way to draw attention to "issues that they consider core interests that other states do not at first easily grasp," said Andrew Nathan, an expert on Chinese politics at New York's Columbia University.

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Yet, such fits of pique also come at a price. Maintaining a grudge against Norway over Liu reminds other countries of China's poor human rights record, even while Beijing is seeking to be taken seriously on international stage. China is seen as defining its interests all too narrowly in a way that upsets the usual give-and-take among nations, said Boston University China scholar Joseph Fewsmith.

"I think China hurts its reputation. China needs to think more about providing the public goods that maintain the international system," Fewsmith said.

The spat with Norway entered the news again this month when the installation of a new Norwegian government offered an opportunity to end the rift. Instead, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman demanded Norway take "concrete action to create conditions for improving and developing bilateral relations."

"Whoever tied the ring around the tiger's neck must untie it," Hua Chunying told reporters, using a familiar Chinese expression to apportion blame.

But China has not said what it wants Norway to do. While the Nobel is awarded in Oslo by the parliament-appointed committee, the Norwegian government has no direct say in who gets it. At the time of the award, Beijing bitterly accused Norway of insulting China by interfering in its internal affairs and glorifying a criminal.

Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison after co-authoring a document calling for sweeping changes to China's one-party political system. His wife has also been placed under illegal house arrest and his brother-in-law jailed on what supporters say are trumped-up fraud charges.

Norway's Foreign Ministry declined to respond to specific questions about China ties, but spokesman Svein Michelsen said Oslo is hopeful of better relations.

"Norway's new foreign minister, Mr. Borge Brende, has confirmed that re-establishing good relations with China is a key priority and will pursue the available opportunities toward this end," Svein Michelsen said.

Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, says China expects some at least symbolic act of contrition, although he didn't say exactly what form that should take.

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© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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