Nobel prize sparks Norway-China row, petitions for reform in Beijing
Norway faces a diplomatic backlash from China after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to jailed democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. The greater fallout may be within China itself.
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In addition, many participants from a group representing Chinese researchers, experts, and journalists slated to study the Norwegian welfare state model have canceled next week’s visit to Oslo. An Asian study tour by 17 Norwegian state secretaries for next week has been postponed because key meetings in Beijing were also canceled.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Liu Xiaobo: Nobel Peace Prize recipient
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Chinese elders call for political reform
The prize has posed a dilemma for the Chinese government. It has generated a throng of support from countries calling for Liu’s release, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and most recently a polite suggestion from Japan’s prime minister that Liu’s release would be “desirable.”
The prize has also encouraged voices – even within the Communist Party of China – to appeal for political reform. Earlier this week, an open letter from Chinese Communist Party elders, including a former secretary to Mao Zedong, called for the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to end restrictions on expression in China.
The letter urged the Communist Party to abolish censorship and realize citizens’ right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The petition was started Oct. 1 – one week before the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded – with just 23 signatures. Since then it has expanded to nearly 500 signatures.
And on Thursday, more than 100 Chinese activists released a separate open letter asking that Liu be released from prison. Norway's foreign minister has also called for Liu’s release and for his wife’s house arrest to be lifted.
“The Nobel Peace Prize has generated a game-changing process,” says Hom. “There are voices within the party who are now going public. It is a quite interesting moment when the Norwegian government recognizes this type of reaction, that it actually reflects a political sense of vulnerability of the leadership.”
Nobel has caused diplomatic tensions before
Norway's diplomatic relations have suffered before over the Nobel Peace Prize, notably with the 1989 award to the Dalai Lama. Primary concern for the moment is over the possible effect on Norway's economic relations with its most important trading partner in Asia.
Norway and China are tentatively scheduled to hold the next round of bilateral trade talks in mid-December, shortly after the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Dec. 10.
Some predict that negotiations may be postponed, but not altogether derailed. China has expressed its dissatisfaction before with other, even larger trading nations – such as Germany for receiving the Dalai Lama in 2007 – but still come back to the trading table.
“It is not a simple causal relationship,” says Hom. “China will do what is in its best strategic interests.”
IN PICTURES: Liu Xiaobo: Nobel Peace Prize recipient