Norway's ruling politicians may refuse to meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits Oslo next month to avoid angering China.
The hesitation is part of an effort to ease tensions with the world's second-largest economy that have festered since Norway's Nobel committee awarded jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Peace Prize in 2010.
"We need to focus on our relationship with China and should remember that should the Norwegian government meet the Dalai Lama it could become difficult to normalise our relationship with China," Foreign Minister Boerge Brende said Wednesday to reporters in parliament after a debate on the issue. The government has yet to make a final decision on the matter, he said.
Olemic Thommessen, the speaker of the parliament, said Tuesday he will avoid meeting with the 78-year-old religious leader, who is visiting at the invitation of the Nobel Institute to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his own Peace Prize.
"What I want to achieve is to contribute to improving the relationship with China," the speaker said in a televised interview Tuesday with broadcaster NRK. "It's at a freezing point Wednesday. Since 2010, Norway has had no political communication with China."
China in 2010 broke off high-level contacts with Norway after the Peace Prize was awarded to the dissident. The dispute has also strained trade relations between the two countries, disrupting salmon exports from the Nordic country.
China accuses the Nobel Laureate of waging a campaign for independence, while the Dalai Lama says he is seeking autonomy for Tibet. He fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese occupation. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have died since then as a result of China's policies, according to the International Campaign for Tibet.
Parties including the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats, which support the minority government in parliament, have urged Norway to meet officially with the leader, according to news agency NTB.
Zhao Jun, China's ambassador, said last year in a speech in Stavanger, Norway, that the Nordic country needs to make the first move and pledge not to cross "red policy lines" to solve the diplomatic freeze.
Brende, part of the new Conservative-led government that took power last year, has said that improving relations with China, its sixth-biggest trading partner, will be his top priority.
The government has maintained that it has no power over the Nobel Committee's decisions in awarding the Peace Prize. The prize is handed out by a committee appointed by parliament and headed by former Prime Minister Thorbjoern Jagland.
The religious leader earlier this year met with US President Barack Obama even as the Chinese government lodged a formal diplomatic protest, saying the meeting would undermine US-China relations.
Thommessen, who was previously head of the parliament's Tibet committee, said not meeting with the Dalai Lama is the "responsible" thing to do.
"It's a question of bringing us out of a difficult path to improve our possibilities to work precisely for those values that we care about, not least human rights," he said.
Saleha Mohsin and Mikael Holter – Bloomberg News
Image: Roni Rekomaa / AFP Photo / Lehtikuva