Relations between Norway and China

Norway and China are both best served by relations between our countries being normalised. We are familiar with each other’s views. Now we need to look ahead, writes the Norwegian Foreign Minister Mr Jonas Gahr Støre.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has made its decision and announced the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011. The Norwegian Government congratulates them. Both in Norway and in the rest of the world, the Committee’s decision has, just as it should, stimulated debate and drawn attention to the winners and their important cause.

This was the case last year too. My concern here is not the Committee’s decision or who the winner or winners are, but the way relations between Norway and China have developed. The 2010 award of the Nobel Peace Prize evoked strong reactions from China. China has virtually frozen the political ties with Norway, and some Norwegian companies have reported increasing difficulties in the Chinese market.

This state of affairs is not normal, and should be changed. We are part of an open world community, and there is a long line of tasks that we must work on together if they are to be solved. It is the responsibility of political leaders to find a way out of the current situation.

The reduced contact between Norway and China that we see today stands in marked contrast to the rapid development we experienced in our bilateral relations in recent decades. Our relationship evolved in step with China’s unparalleled economic and social development.

China today is a global actor in both economic and political terms. Broad networks between individuals, the business sector and the authorities in China and the rest of the world have become commonplace, and are of crucial importance. It has been said before, and it can be reiterated here: the choices China makes in relation to a whole range of areas – such as economics, distribution, the rule of law, migration and the environment – will have implications for the whole world, writes the Norwegian Foreign Minister Mr Jonas Gahr Støre. .

China never copies anyone, but makes use of relevant experience, including from Norway. Through our ever broadening contacts, we were able to learn from Chinese experience. And China was showing increasing interest in Norway’s experience of developing an open social market economy. Over the years, we developed a political dialogue that  had the breadth and scope to encompass difficult questions.

We agreed on a great many issues, and disagreed on some. One area where we have different views is in relation to universal human rights. We respect China’s right to choose its own path of development on the basis of Chinese traditions and culture. At the same time, we believe that universal human rights are just that: Universal and for all. We therefore believe that there should be coherence between national legislation and the international obligations of states. We make this clear. Norway’s line has been, and will continue to be, to emphasise our views on matters of principles and to raise individual cases, writes the Norwegian Foreign Minister Mr Jonas Gahr Støre. .

Until the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, we were able to live with our agreements and disagreements. For nearly a year now, our relations have been at an all-time low. Strong views on thePeace Prize are a recurring theme when China expresses its dissatisfaction. China maintains that the award of the prize was interference in internal affairs. It has been suggested that the award of the prize last year and various statements in that connection represented an attempt from outside to bring about a regime change. The Chinese authorities have also indicated that they consider the Norwegian authorities to have close links with the Norwegian Nobel Committee. 

We take these reactions and the questions that are raised seriously. I would like to repeat this fundamental fact: The Norwegian Nobel Committee is independent and has sole responsibility for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Government attaches importance to guarantee the Nobel Committee’s independence and its exclusive mandate to interpret Alfred Nobel’s will. Anything else would be irreconcilable with our tradition. Every Norwegian government has supported the values that the Nobel Peace Prize is founded upon and the broader messages that the award presents to the world.

Nevertheless, and precisely because the Committee’s independence is being questioned, we need to emphasise that the peace prize award is not the decision of the Norwegian Government. China’s reactions over the last year make it necessary to reiterate that the Nobel Committee’s decision is not connected to Norwegian foreign policy. And that statements by members of the Nobel Committee and staff are not made on behalf of Norwegian authorities, writes the Norwegian Foreign Minister Mr Jonas Gahr Støre. .

The Storting – the Norwegian parliament – selects the members of the Nobel Committee. It is vital to ensure the Committee’s independence and international legitimacy, and it is the responsibility of the Storting to take these considerations into account when it appoints new Committee members in the future.

It is Norway’s view that development towards democracy, the rule of law and universal human rights is the best basis for a stable society. The Norwegian authorities believe that the people of China must choose the way forward for their country. We have never questioned the right of the Chinese to determine their own development. I note that the Chinese authorities react if voices in the Norwegian public debate have spoken out in favour of regime change in China. However, in Norway we have freedom of speech. Once again, different points of view expressed in the public debate should – in our tradition – not be confused with the official views of the Norwegian authorities.  

The Norwegian Government acknowledges the historic improvement of living standards that China has achieved in recent decades. China’s people and authorities deserve recognition for the unparalleled progress they have made. The country’s development has given hundreds of millions of people a higher standard of living and greater freedom. There are still many challenges. There are increasing disparities within the country, and there is great need for political, economic and social reform, as the Chinese authorities themselves point out.

Again, the choices China makes have implications far beyond its borders. China and Norway are now familiar with each other’s views. We have listened to China’s reactions and have considered what has been said. We now have a joint responsibility to move forward in mutual respect and to our mutual benefit.


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