China: “Norwegians Behave Badly”

Ever since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, compounding the grievous insult of the Dali Lama receiving the prize in 1989, China has kept Norway, both government representatives and private citizens, at arms length. China’s imports of Norwegian salmon, once constituting 90% of their salmon imports, fell to 30% almost immediately, and Norwegian citizens have a hard time getting visas to visit China (because they are “badly behaved”). [I’m working off of this blog post from The Diplomat and generally assuming the reporting is accurate.] The Norwegians are trying to do something about that, currently by avoiding all official acknowledgement of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Oslo. It’s too soon to know if there will be any results of Norway’s actions.

The debate, to the extent that there is one, centers around whether or not Norway’s response to China’s “punishments” are craven submission to an international bully or reasonable expressions of political good will, but I’m much more interested in China’s role than Norway’s.

China pursues its foreign interests unencumbered by ideology — they’ll make deals with anybody, even those we in the West would consider “the worst dictators” as long as: 1) China’s national interests are served; and 2) China is shown no disrespect. These are the same thing, of course, and what’s interesting to me is that China has better relations with despotic and poor North Korea than with democratic and rich Norway, and that this must represent a calculation of national interest. Given that China generally takes a very long view, respect, or lack of disrespect, may be the most important component of their trading partner’s status.

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