China is offering visa-free visits to Beijing for visitors from every European country except Norway, in what appears to be the latest in a string of punishments for the Nordic country since it gave a jailed Chinese dissident the Nobel peace prize in 2010.
On Wednesday, the Beijing city government unveiled a list of 45 countries whose citizens will be allowed to enter the city while in transit for 72 hours without a visa, starting from January 1.
Visitors from all 27 EU member states, as well as Iceland and Switzerland, will enjoy the new visa-free treatment, as will those from the US, Russia, Japan, Australia and most major Latin American countries.
When asked why Norway was left off the list, Wang Qin, a senior official at the Beijing government travel administration, did not respond directly but said that some countries were not eligible because their citizens or government were “of low-quality” and “badly behaved”.
Visa-free status was granted to countries that sent the most tourists to Beijing between 2009 and 2011, according to Chinese state media reports quoting Beijing officials.
But according to official Chinese statistics, the number of Norwegian visitors to China in the first six months of this year exceeded those from all but 10 European countries, including Iceland which, like Norway, is not an EU member state.
A foreign affairs official at the Beijing city government said the list of countries had been drawn up by the Chinese foreign ministry, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
China’s move caught the Norwegians by surprise. “We are keen to re-establish relations but all countries are free to ease restrictions on visa-free travel on their own accord,” said a foreign ministry spokesperson.
Sino-Norwegian ties have been in diplomatic deep freeze ever since imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in late 2010, with political and economic relations badly affected.
Mr Liu is three years into an 11-year prison sentence he was given for helping to draft and disseminate “Charter 08” – a manifesto signed by hundreds of prominent Chinese intellectuals calling for peaceful political reform and greater democracy in China.
Immediately after Mr Liu was awarded the prize in December 2010, Beijing suspended negotiations with Oslo over a bilateral free trade agreement and those talks have not yet resumed.
Since then China has refused visas to many Norwegian journalists, scientists and businesspeople and cancelled numerous political and diplomatic meetings.
European diplomats say the Norwegian ambassador has “improved his tennis game enormously” over the past two years because of a lack of meetings.
Earlier this year senior Chinese diplomats insisted Norway must “recognise its mistakes and take steps to correct them.”
Norwegian exports to China have also been affected. In the immediate aftermath of Mr Liu’s prize, China introduced stricter, time-consuming checks on Norwegian salmon that led to fresh fish rotting in Chinese warehouses.
In the first eight months of 2011, Norwegian salmon exports to China dropped 62 per cent from the same period a year earlier, compared with earlier industry forecasts of 30 to 40 per cent growth.
Salmon exports have rebounded and were just 8 per cent lower in the first eight months of 2012 than the same period in 2010 but overall Norwegian exports to China dropped 21 per cent in the first nine months from the same period a year earlier.
The latest Chinese punishment for Norway comes less than a month after Xi Jinping replaced Hu Jintao as general secretary of the Communist Party of China, a position he is expected to hold for the next decade.
Governments around the world are looking for signs of how China’s new administration will behave on the world stage and the continued harsh treatment for Norway is a possible signal that Beijing will maintain its assertive international posture.
Norway has so far not responded publicly to the Chinese actions with measures of its own.
Petter Haas Brubakk, industrial policy director at NHO, Norway’s largest employers’ organisation, expressed regret at China’s latest punitive measure. “While we welcome China’s decision to introduce visa-free travel, we regret that it does not apply to Norwegian business people and tourists,” he said.Source: Financial Times “China snubs Norway in visa reforms”
- China Just Snubbed Norway In The Most Petty Way Possible (businessinsider.com)
- China says Liu Xiaobo is a criminal (kansascity.com)
- China’s use of economic stick is troubling (chinadailymail.com)