China warns Norway against peace prize for Hong Kong protesters

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) and Norway's Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide at a press conference during a visit to Norway, on Aug 27, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

OSLO (BLOOMBERG) - China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi cautioned against giving a Nobel Peace Prize to Hong Kong protesters as he visited Norway, underscoring the limitations of Beijing's new diplomatic charm offensive targeted at Europe.

"We don't want to see anyone politicising the Nobel Peace Prize," Wang said during a press briefing attended by his Norwegian counterpart, Ine Eriksen Soreide, in response to a question about Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrations.

"In the past, and today, in the future, China will firmly reject any attempt by anyone to use the Nobel Peace Prize to interfere in China's internal affairs.

The position of the Chinese side is rock firm on this principle."

Relations between Oslo and Beijing have been turbulent following a 2010 decision to award the Peace Prize to then-jailed - and now deceased - Chinese democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo.

Though the Norwegian government doesn't have any say in who is awarded the prize, China responded by suspending ties and freezing free-trade talks.

It took six years before the two countries agreed to normalise relations in 2016.

Wang said his visit was the first to the Scandinavian country by a Chinese foreign minister in 15 years.

He also met with Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Thursday, part of a week-long trip to Europe that includes stops in Italy, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

The visit comes as China aims to stabilise key relationships around the world amid rising tensions with the US - particularly as Washington seeks to keep Huawei Technologies out of 5G networks, rewire global supply chains and prevent Chinese apps like TikTok and WeChat from accessing American data.

China's international relations have also been damaged by scrutiny of its early handling of Covid-19, as well as its actions on human rights and political freedoms, including its controversial national security law for Hong Kong.

The legislation, enacted by China in June, is raising concerns about autonomy and basic freedoms in the financial hub.

Hong Kong's historic 2019 protest movement was sparked by opposition to a since-scrapped bill allowing extraditions to mainland China, before growing into a broader call for more democracy.

Wang told Soreide in a meeting that China and Norway should "deal with sensitive issues appropriately, to avoid the hard-won warming ties being strained again," according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Wang said that two sides should accelerate negotiations for a bilateral free trade deal, and that China "attaches high importance" to Norwegian seafood imports and is willing to establish a channel for communication to facilitate purchases.

"If we can continue to respect each other and treat each other as equals, earnestly accommodate each others' core interests and major concerns, our bilateral relationship can continue to develop in a sustained and sound manner, and the political foundation of the bilateral relationship will be further consolidated," Wang said in the briefing.

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