China's decision to deny a visa to a former Norwegian prime minister should not be over-interpreted, officials say, despite analysts saying the move reflects lingering frosty relations between the two countries.
Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, whose term in office ended in 2005, was invited to attend and moderate a World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting this week in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. However, he was denied a visa without reason, Aftenposten, Norway's largest newspaper, reported Tuesday.
Bondevik told the newspaper his visa denial was "probably" linked to his support of the Nobel Committee's decision to award its 2010 peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned dissident.
However, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin stressed on Wednesday that the case should not be misconstrued.
Chinese citizens are denied visas daily by foreign embassies and consulates and visa policies vary by country, he said.
"We are disappointed and surprised that the visa ... was not approved," the AP quoted Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general-secretary of the Geneva-based WCC, as saying.
He said in a statement that the Chinese government approved the meeting and knew Bondevik would moderate, according to the AP.
It's the first time China has hosted the WCC's week-long meeting, which wraps up tomorrow. Some 46 delegates from 33 countries are attending the conference, according to the State Administration of Religious Affairs.
Since Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago, China has imposed stricter quarantine measures on imported salmon from Norway, resulting in a sharp decline in Norwegian salmon exports, according to media reports.
Last year China also delayed free trade agreement talks with Norway.
"China is very unhappy about the Nobel Committee's decision as it showed disrespect to China's domestic affairs," Jia Qingguo, a professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, told the Global Times.
"China also believes that the Norwegian government didn't do what it should have done following the prize decision."
The Nobel Committee is independent from the Norwegian government.
But the Nobel saga might not be the only reason for cooling relations between the two countries. In January, it was reported that Norway plans to shut China out of the Arctic Council, an eight-member intergovernmental forum.
China expressed its desire to join the council as an observer to cooperate with other countries on issues concerning the Arctic.
"Norway is being uncooperative toward this matter," said Shen Jiru, a researcher with the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "It's understandable for China to respond to Norway's attitude."