Jan. 27 – Norway could block China’s attempts to gain permanent observer status on the increasingly relevant Arctic Council due to a souring of relations between the countries over the last few years, according to a report on Wednesday in Aftenposten – Norway’s largest newspaper.
“As long as the Chinese authorities refuse to speak to their Norwegian counterparts, it will be difficult for Norway to say yes to a (Chinese) candidacy to become a permanent observer on the Arctic Council,” an unidentified “highly-placed diplomatic source” told the paper.
Neither Norway nor China has made any official comment on the issue.
“I can neither confirm nor deny this story, but I can say bilateral contacts between Norway and China are at a low level,” Karsten Klepsvik, the senior Arctic official at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Guardian.
Although Norway had previously suggested that it was in favor of China’s observer status during Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Soere’s visit to Beijing in August 2010, bilateral relations began to deteriorate in October later that year when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize.
Although the Nobel Committee is independent from the Norwegian government, China has cut political and human rights dialogues with Oslo to protest what it perceives as meddling in its domestic affairs.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental body promoting cooperation and environmental protection in the northern region. In recent years, it has also expanded to include other work such as scientific research and sustainable development.
According to Aftenposten, China’s interest in the Arctic Council lies in the opening up of a new shipping route through the region as the Arctic ice cap melts. Such a route would significantly shorten the voyage between China and Europe.
However, if China wishes to become a permanent observer on the council, it needs the consent of all eight permanent members, namely: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Russian Federation, and the United States.