TROMSOE, Norway (Reuters) - Norway reiterated support on Monday for China to have an observer role in Arctic affairs despite a slump in relations since the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident.
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said Oslo’s relations with Beijing would take time to recover after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the prize in October to Liu Xiaobo, serving an 11-year sentence in China for subversion.
At a conference on “Arctic Frontiers” in northern Norway, he told Reuters Oslo favored granting China an observer role at meetings of the Arctic Council, which groups the United States, Russia, Canada and the five Nordic countries.
He said the melting of Arctic sea ice, linked to global warming, was generating interest from China and other Asian countries in future opportunities including a shipping route between the Pacific and the Atlantic.
“Every regional dimension that is linked to transport has a global impact,” he said. “We need to find the right channels ... to talk, to cooperate with China. Norway favors China being an observer of the Arctic Council.”
The European Commission is also interested in becoming a full-time observer at the Council. Russia has been among countries reluctant to let in observers.
Angered by the award of the Nobel Prize to Liu, Beijing has indefinitely postponed the next round of talks with Oslo on a bilateral trade deal which Norway has long hoped could be a model for other European countries.
“We are still at a political low. We are not pushing agendas at the moment, we have to take note of China’s reaction,” Stoere said. “A lot of economic activity is going on, a lot of trade,” between the two despite the deadlock, he said.
Stoere said Oslo had stressed to Beijing that the five-member Nobel Committee, whose chairman is a former Prime Minister, was appointed by Norway’s parliament to act independently of the government.
“We take note of China making the link between Norway and this decision. We have made our point clear on that. And then we need to take time,” he said. He did not spell out how long he expected the standoff to last.
On January 11, Norway’s Trade Minister Trond Giske said the government had “the ambition to land the trade deal during 2011.”.
Norwegian exports to China fell by 10.1 percent in 2010 to 13.5 billion Norwegian crowns ($2.32 billion) while imports rose by 17.4 percent to 37.6 billion, Norway’s statistics agency said last week.
Editing by Andrew Dobbie