By Jackie Sheehan.

The votes are in from the Beijing jury, and it’s Norvège: nul points. Here in the UK Scandinavia is in fashion, thanks to TV audiences’ appetite for Nordic noir, but Norway, alone amongst European countries, is excluded from a new scheme for 72-hour visa-free access to Beijing for its nationals. As well as all EU countries, Switzerland, and Iceland, citizens from the US, Russia, Japan, Australia, and Brazil will also be included in the new visa regime, according to a Financial Times report.

Beijing official Wang Qin would not comment directly on Norway, but did explain that “some countries were not eligible because their citizens or government were ‘of low-quality’ and ‘badly behaved’.” So how does Norway, the pariah state of Europe, compare to the UK, whose passport holders are free to indulge in their national pastimes in the entertainment venues of China’s capital? And how does it compare to China, in terms of government and citizen behavior?

Transparency International’s corruption perception index for 2012(link to the source) ranks countries from the least corrupt (number 1) to the most (number 176), and gives them an index rating out of 100, with 100 being cleanest and 0 being most corrupt. Here, Norway is ranked as 7th cleanest country with an index of 85, much better than the UK’s 17th and 74, and well ahead of China’s own 80th ranking and index of 39. On crime, a 2006 comparison of OECD countries(link to the source) finds Norway’s police recording lower rates of homicide, rape, assault, robbery, and burglary than are dealt with by the police in England and Wales. A Norwegian version of The Killing would be dull viewing indeed, based on these figures.

Norway is second only to Australia in the OECD’s own Better Life index of well-being, which ranks countries on work-life balance, civic engagement, housing, health, education, jobs, income, community, environment, safety, and life satisfaction. The Russian Federation (passport holders welcome in Beijing), along with Italy, Japan, and swathes of Eastern Europe, lags well behind.

But on the only comparison that matters to Beijing – has the country awarded a prestigious international prize to a Chinese citizen whose views are objectionable to the CCP government? – the visa-free countries score zero to Norway’s 100%. This exclusion, plainly, is part of Beijing’s revenge for the empty chair on which Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize rested at the December 2010 Oslo ceremony.

It seems a petty piece of retaliation, the kind of thing a country comfortable with its power in the world wouldn’t bother to do.  But, aside from a little extra hassle and expense for Norwegians transiting Beijing, the effects are fairly petty as well. I wonder what terrible consequences the governments of Leeds and Manchester anticipated when they bowed to Chinese pressure to pull out of any local event the Dalai Lama was attending last June, as Channel 4’s Dispatches programme revealed on 3 December? In 2011 Pakistan prevented two of its own nationals from leaving the country to attend a World Uyghur Congress event in Washington; they had valid US visas for the trip, but were told they could only go if they first apologised to the Chinese embassy in Islamabad for their views on Xinjiang(link to the source). Even this hasn’t won Pakistan the Beijing visa-free treatment, though, so I hope those UK local governments aren’t expecting a reward for buying into the PRC’s particular political obsessions.

Jackie Sheehan is Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute and Associate Professor of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors

Comments

  1. China always says that it wants to strengthen its soft power internationally, but this petty restriction on a country which has considerable soft power internationally is hardly the way to go about it!

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