The recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize has been anything but peaceful, and now a conflict over events leading up to the announcement has broken out within Norway. The media was full of criticism against Foreign Minster Jonas Gahr Støre all weekend, but some think it’s a tempest in a teapot.
The latest flap emerged Saturday, when newspaper Aftenposten reported that Støre “took contact” with the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, before Jagland announced that this year’s prize would go to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Støre, according to Aftenposten, “warned” Jagland that the Chinese government would react badly if the prize went to one of their dissidents.
The “contact,” it turns out, amounted to an estimated two-minute chat on a street in New York when Støre ran into Jagland while both were in New York for meetings at the United Nations late last month. Støre said he had just emerged from a meeting with China’s foreign minister, who had wanted to meet Støre to express China’s concerns over the then-pending Nobel Peace Prize announcement.
Støre and Jagland, who now heads the Council of Europe and lives in Strasbourg, are longtime Labour Party colleagues and Støre said it simply felt “natural” to share what he’d just been told by his Chinese counterpart to Jagland. He also told Norwegian journalists later the same day about the latest Chinese concerns, which had been aired on numerous occasions before as well. The Chinese had warned for months that a Nobel prize to a Chinese dissident would damage bilateral relations between China and Norway.
Støre claimed his “90-second to two-minute” chat with Jagland was in no way an effort on his part to put pressure on Jagland or the Nobel Committee to reconsider any pending prize to a dissident. Støre said he has in fact been “embarrassingly precise” that the Norwegian government has nothing to do with the actions of the Nobel Committee.
Opposition politicians, however, have used Aftenposten’s report to their full advantage, accusing Støre of improperly trying to exert influence on the committee. Some have said they’re “shocked” Støre even mentioned his meeting with the Chinese foreign minister to Jagland, while others praise the committee for ignoring the warnings and awarding the prize to Liu anyway.
A string of others, including former Nobel Committee leaders and foreign policy experts, also questioned Støre’s judgment in talking with Jagland and suggested it was “highly problematic” that Støre had brought up possible consequences of a Prize Prize to a dissident.
Jagland, for his part, felt obliged to send an message of support to Støre on Saturday, saying that his version of events was the same as Støre’s and that he hadn’t felt Støre had tried to pressure him. Jagland also sent a statement to Norwegian news bureau NTB, with the same message.
It all may simply underline what Chinese authorities have been unwilling to accept: That the Nobel Committee and the Norwegian government operate independently, and any hint of cooperation will set off protests like those seen in the local media over the weekend. Chinese authorities, meanwhile, remain unhappy with Norway, continuing to cancel meetings, cultural exchanges and, most recently, a planned trip by a Chinese delegation from Yangzhou that had planned to enter into a friendship-city relationship with the Norwegian city of Kristiansand.