Former Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has been denied a visa to enter China, Oslo said Tuesday, in what appeared to be continued fallout from a diplomatic row over the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident.
Bondevik, a Christian Democrat who headed a conservative coalition government from 1997 to 2000 and again from 2001 to 2005, was supposed to attend a World Council of Churches seminar in China this week, but last Friday he was told he had been denied a visa, the Norwegian foreign ministry said.
Bondevik was reportedly the only one of some 30 participants coming from abroad who was denied entry to the country, and the Norwegian ministry said Tuesday it had raised the issue with Chinese authorities, to no avail.
"I find this unfortunate. I'm sure they will be able to carry out the meeting without me, but I would have liked to be there. I can only attest that the Chinese, almost two years after (dissident) Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, are still trying to make their point," Bondevik told the Aftenposten daily.
The former prime minister said he had not been given any justification for his visa denial beyond that the Chinese embassy in Oslo had not received the necessary authorisation from Beijing.
"I didn't have anything to do with awarding the Nobel Peace Prize (to Liu), but maybe (Chinese authorities) have read that I have spoken in positive terms about the prize," Bondevik said, speculating on why he was denied the visa.
The Chinese embassy in Oslo could not be reached for comment.
Diplomatic relations between Norway and China have been frosty since the awarding in Oslo of the Nobel Peace Prize to the still imprisoned dissident, whom Beijing considers a "criminal", in October 2010.
Beijing has refused to have any high-level contact with Norway to protest the prize, which it described as a "farce" and what it perceived as "meddling" in its affairs.
Despite Norway's insistence that the Nobel Committee is completely independent, a number of Norwegians have been blocked entry to China, including two parliamentary committees.
"We are confused by this decision," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told Aftenposten Tuesday, commenting on Bondevik's rejected visa.
"I don't know of any other examples of former Norwegian prime ministers who have been denied a visa to China," he said, adding though that the denied visa fell into what was turning into an unfortunate pattern.
"There have been a few too many individual denials at different levels," he said.