The opposition continues the pressure on the Prime Minister and asks him once and for all to clarify whether the quote in the Jagland book has been reproduced correctly.
According to former party colleague Thorbjørn Jagland, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor Party) must have exerted pressure on the Nobel Committee ahead of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010.
The core of the dispute is a short exchange of words between the then Foreign Minister Støre and the then Nobel Committee leader Jagland during a reception in Oslo City Hall eleven years ago.
Jagland writes the following in his new book «Years in peace and unrest»:
“It peaked when Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, during a reception in Oslo City Hall, put his arm around me and said: ‘You do not intend to destroy our relationship with this great country, do you?’ I said nothing, but reacted strongly inside me ».
Støre denied in the Storting on Wednesday that he had exerted any kind of pressure on the Nobel Committee in connection with the awarding of the Peace Prize, but at the same time refused to confirm whether the quote in the book was correctly reproduced.
Asia researcher and senior researcher at PRIO, Stein Tønnesson, believes that the Støre government’s reputation with China could be strengthened if the Prime Minister confirms that the quote has been reproduced correctly.
– It would strengthen Norway’s shares in China, but at the same time it will give the impression that the Norwegian authorities may try to influence the Nobel Committee’s decision, Tønnesson tells Nettavisen.
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The right-wing top demands an answer from Støre
The opposition has raised loud criticism and demands that Prime Minister Støre answer honestly whether he is correctly reproduced in the book. Last in line is the recently resigned Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (H).
Eriksen Søreide, who is considered to be a possible successor to Erna Solberg, writes the following in a written question to the Prime Minister: – Is the Prime Minister correctly reproduced in Thorbjørn Jagland’s book «Years in peace and unrest»?
Liberal Party leader Guri Melby, who has also asked a similar written question, believes it is crucial to get to the bottom of the matter.
– This is about the Nobel Committee’s legitimacy, and what kind of view the government and especially the Prime Minister have on just that. It is absolutely fundamental for the Peace Prize’s legitimacy that it is politically independent and that one can feel confident that there has been no political pressure in one direction or another when it is handed out, says Liberal Party leader Guri Melby to Nettavisen.
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– What Jagland claims in his book is that Støre believes an award to a Chinese dissident could ruin free trade between Norway and China. It cannot be the case that the Nobel Committee should avoid awarding a prize to a human rights and democracy activist in China for the sake of free trade. That is why it is important to get to the bottom of this, says Melby, who is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Storting.
– I feel that we have not yet reached the bottom of this. It is a challenge for the Storting that the Prime Minister and former chair of the Nobel Committee have two different versions of what has happened, and that the Prime Minister will not give a more concrete statement about this situation, says Melby.
– A paradox
Tønnesson says that the allegations about the alleged influence towards the Nobel Committee from the then Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, were made known already in the autumn of 2010. Aftenposten wrote just a few days after the announcement in 2010 that Støre allegedly warned the Nobel Committee against awarding the Liu Xiaobo prize.
– Which is a bit paradoxical, if the story of Jagland is actually true, then it helped in a way to show the Chinese that the Nobel Committee is independent. It was clear that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was generally dissatisfied with that peace prize, and had strongly hoped that it would not come. There is a collective attitude in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that one should take care of the relationship with the great powers. There was also a collective attitude in the years after the award that one had to restore relations with China, says Tønnesson to Nettavisen.
– Afraid we will get a government that becomes too servile
Melby believes the case also has a foreign policy dimension.
– In the years ahead, relations with China will be one of the most important in foreign policy. The government’s emphasis on Norwegian business interests versus human rights issues is important, she says.
– If the words Jagland attributes to Støre are correctly reproduced, and it is in fact the case that Støre believes a Chinese dissident should not receive the Peace Prize because it could be detrimental to Norway’s relations with China, then he is more concerned with Norwegian business interests than human rights. I think that is completely wrong, says Melby.
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– And if this is something Støre also believes today, that Norway in various ways can not criticize China because it can potentially harm Norwegian business, I am afraid we will get a government that becomes too servile to China in foreign policy, she adds.
– Would strengthen Norway’s shares in China
Although the Nobel Committee is politically independent, it is a fact that the committee members are appointed by the Storting. Jagland was also Secretary General of the Council of Europe when he and the committee presented the award to Liu Xiaobo. Jagland is also a former prime minister, foreign minister and parliamentary president.
China placed Norway in the freezer for a full six years before relations were finally restored in 2016. Relations were normalized only after Norway signed a joint declaration with a promise not to criticize China’s core interests.
– I think China has been quite happy with the Solberg government and that they were able to restore relations with Norway. China has had a very bad relationship with many other countries, including Sweden. But I do not think the Chinese are so preoccupied with that story now. The only thing had to be that what Jagland says in a way contributes to appeasing China to the Støre government, says Tønnesson.
– What happens if Prime Minister Støre confirms that he is correctly reproduced in the Jagland book, Tønnesson?
– It would strengthen Norway’s shares in China, but at the same time it will give the impression that the Norwegian authorities may try to influence the Nobel Committee’s decision. Even though the Nobel Committee has been appointed by the Storting, neither the Government nor the Storting shall influence the committee’s decisions. The whole affair with China has contributed to further strengthening the Nobel Committee’s willingness to show absolute independence, says Tønnesson.
Will not respond specifically to the quote
The online newspaper has sent an inquiry to the Prime Minister’s Office (SMK) on Thursday morning and asked whether Prime Minister Støre will answer yes or no to the question to former Foreign Minister Eriksen Søreide.
– The Prime Minister’s office will first respond to the Storting in the usual way through a written answer, SMK writes in an e-mail to Nettavisen.
The written questions to Melby and Eriksen Søreide are still answered.
Støre said the following in the Storting on Wednesday:
– I will reject that I have put pressure on the Nobel Committee in any context, Støre said in the Storting on Wednesday when asked by Melby.
He also would not answer whether the episodes depicted in the book are correctly reproduced.
– I do not want to comment on how he writes. I can only say that I have not put pressure on the Nobel Committee, said the Prime Minister.