China steps up retaliation against Norway for Nobel

OSLO Tue Oct 12, 2010 11:45am EDT

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia pose in this undated photo released by his family on October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Handout

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia pose in this undated photo released by his family on October 3, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

OSLO (Reuters) - China broadened its retaliation against Norway on Tuesday for the selection of a Chinese dissident for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, cancelling a second cabinet-level meeting and a Norwegian cultural event in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a news conference in Beijing the award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo last week showed a lack of respect for China's judicial system and damaged ties between the two countries.

In Oslo, the Nobel Committee said it would be "delighted" for Liu's wife to accept the award at a ceremony on December 10 in Oslo if Liu, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for "subverting" the Chinese state, were prohibited from traveling.

The U.S. embassy in Beijing urged China to lift any restrictions on Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who has sent out messages she is under house arrest in Beijing, according to news reports and overseas human rights groups.

In actions against Norway's government, which says it has no influence over the Nobel Committee, Beijing canceled a meeting scheduled for Wednesday between Norwegian fisheries minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen and Sun Dawei, the vice minister of China's food safety authority, Norwegian officials said.

On Monday, the Chinese canceled a meeting between Berg-Hansen and Chinese vice fisheries minister Niu Dum, also scheduled for Wednesday.

Expanding retaliation to cultural exchanges, Chinese authorities called off a Norwegian musical due to be performed next month in Beijing, the show's composer said on Tuesday.

"The show is canceled, and we have been told (it's) as a punishment for the Nobel Peace Prize," Thomas Langhelle, the composer of the musical "Some Sunny Night," told Reuters. "We are told that Norwegians now cannot perform in China."

Ragnhild Imerslund, a spokeswoman for Norway's Foreign Ministry, told Reuters: "Other meetings at the working level are proceeding as normal but meetings at the political level have all been canceled."

THREAT TO TRADE ACCORD?

Political analysts have expressed concern China might put the brakes on negotiations toward a free-trade agreement with Norway. The agreement, two years in the making so far, would be the Asian giant's first with a European country.

The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selected Liu, told Reuters on Tuesday that China's escalating response was off-target.

"I have seen comments from Chinese officials that we are interfering in domestic politics in China," said Thorbjoern Jagland, the committee chairman.

"All I can say to that is that all members of the United Nations must comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The international community has both the right and the obligation to intervene when human rights are being harmed."

Asked about China's growing retaliation against Norway, Jagland said: "I am very much in favor of free trade and cultural exchange as tools to bring countries closer together."

Liu's wife told Reuters her husband "hopes I can go to Norway to receive the prize for him.

Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee which awards the Peace Prize, welcomed the possibility.

"We would be delighted to see her here. This has happened several times in the past," he told Reuters.

Laureates such as Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi were all represented in Oslo by family members, he said.

Lundestad said that if Liu himself could attend the ceremony on December 10 "that would be a bigger and even more pleasant surprise, but we are not counting on it."

(Editing by Charles Dick)

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