‘Is lobby group working for China on Nobel?’
The political editor of Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper has questioned whether “Chinese interests” have hired a top Oslo lobbying firm to influence the selection of the committee which awards the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the article, titled “On a smear mission for the Chinese?” and published on Tuesday night, Harald Stanghelle asks why Morten Wetland, a partner with Oslo lobbyists First House and former ambassador to the United Nations, last week suddenly broke with his diplomatic silence.
He then notes that “unsubstantiated rumours say that ‘Chinese interests’ have hired First House to campaign against Thorbjørn Jagland and the Nobel Committee.”
Stanghelle stresses that the rumours are “unsubstantiated”, but even the suggestion that China is bankrolling a campaign to influence the selection of the Nobel Prize Committee is likely to cause a storm in Norway and beyond.
Wetland’s Managing Director Per Høiby on Wednesday firmly rejected Stanghelle’s insinuations. “We have no assignments paid or non paid for anyone related to China or Chinese interests,” he told The Local. “We have no assignments for clients interested in influencing the process of nominating the new Nobel Committee.”
Stanghelle’s suggestion is based on an article Wetland wrote last week, in which he referred to the “embarrassing” period when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Prize to US President Barack Obama.
In a story which went around the world, Wetland wrote that his Washington counterpart Wegger Strömmen had received a “dressing down” from Barack Obama’s then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
“Right now it may seem as if the strategy is to ridicule the Nobel Committee in general, and the Committee leader Thorbjørn Jagland in particular,” Stanghelle argues.
Wetland’s article, by highlighting how “weird” people in Washington found the Obama prize, he argues, fits into this agenda.
To back up the rumours, Stanghelle highlights a passage from an article Jagland himself wrote in VG on Monday, in which he noted that First House, “perhaps has or can gain customers who have long been dissatisfied with the award to Liu Xiabo”.
Norway’s government is working hard to rebuild diplomatic links with China, which has put a freeze on all high level diplomatic meetings since the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo in 2010. Earlier this month the Norwegian government refused to meet the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, for fear of angering China, which sees him as fomenting opposition to China’s rule over the country.
This autumn three of the five seats on the Norwegian Nobel Committee are up for selection: that held by the committee chairman Thørbjorn Jagland, that held by Kaci Kullmann Five, and one other. Jagland, who has chaired the committee since 2009 is expected to seek to be appointed to another term.