Norway’s Fish for Soul Agreement with China

Economic Reasons:

While President Trump double-downs on China, calling out the lopsided trade agreements and openly talks to Taiwan, Børge Brende (Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs) gets on his knees with them, apparently with his eyes closed and mouth wide open. Six years after the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the imprisoned democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, Norway restores ties with China – but at what cost?

Norwegian Exports in 2014: oil and gas accounted for over 60%. Source: The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC)

With the oil industry on the wane, fishing is now in the spotlight, looking to boost exports. There has been pressure from energy, fishing, and transport industry advocates to normalize relations with China. Moreover, China is looking to boost trades with US allies, perhaps looking for a roundabout way to influence their ties with America. Chinese investments in the EU are now at an all time record high: $37 billion in 2016. Stein Tonnesson, a historian and former director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, said the agreement was “of huge importance to Norway” due to the commercial potential. Norway’s salmon industry stands to benefit significantly.

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Børge Brende – Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Agreement:

Ironically, Børge Brende criticized then-presidential candidate Donald Trump for his foreign policy stance and personal character during the election. Furthermore, he urged Americans to vote for Hillary Clinton. However, the agreement he made with China, on Norway’s behalf, mostly contradicts Norwegian egalitarian traditions and unfettered respect for human rights. Apparently, they sold their souls to get some fish to market:

The conciliatory statement:

“Through meticulous and numerous conversations, the two sides have, over the last years, reached a level of trust that allows for resumption of a normal relationship,” they said in a joint declaration, which stated that Norway was “fully conscious of the position and concerns of the Chinese side” over the prize.

The Chinese dictating to Norway:

The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in a statement that “Norway deeply reflected upon the reasons bilateral mutual trust was harmed and had conscientious, solemn consultations with China about how to improve bilateral relations.”

The Norwegians confirming that they sold out:

In the statement, Norway said it “fully respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, attaches high importance to China’s core interests and major concerns, will not support actions that undermine them, and will do its best to avoid any future damage to the bilateral relations.”

Confirmation from rights advocates:

“We are worried about some of the wording in the declaration,” John Peder Egenaes, secretary general of Amnesty International in Norway, said in an interview. “If this sentence means the Norwegian government becomes subservient, we will criticize them for it.


China, in addition to blatantly violating human rights and curtailing free speech, also contributes significantly to wildlife destruction, helping take rhinos and elephants close to extinction. Norway’s “fellatio diplomacy” with China will not generate the revenues needed to offset losses from the declining oil industry nor convince China to change its’ ways. Perhaps if the Norwegian government officials read the “The Art of the Deal” and had some courage, they would have been able to sell their fish to China, but without compromise.

For example: working around, using intermediaries in Singapore or Thailand; doubling-down and recognizing more dissidents; or going on the offensive, adding tariffs on Chinese-made goods, working with the EU, UK, Australia, Japan and the USA, to encourage increased domestic production or trade with friendly countries.

Like petroleum, aquaculture (fish farming on land and at sea) technology is advancing, and new players are expected to enter the market, dampening the long-term prices. Therefore, the financial upside is not worth the moral sacrifice. Moreover, Norway of all countries should have some standards and integrity with respect to trade. I hope that Norway sees this agreement as a threat to national integrity and even security and electing leaders accordingly.

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