Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is making a trip through Europe this week, at a particularly tense time for China and countries on the continent. In the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government directed some of its diplomatic efforts toward heavy-handed coercion to get Europe on board with its narratives about the start of the pandemic, backed by a disinformation campaign. Between that, the crackdown in Hong Kong, and disturbing revelations out of Xinjiang, Beijing has found itself facing a significantly more skeptical set of partners in Europe, many of whom have taken steps to exclude Huawei from their 5G networks.
When Wang appeared in the Netherlands, for example, he was met with a press conference in the Dutch parliament featuring two Uyghur activists. (Wang was invited to attend a closed-door session with Dutch MPs to discuss human-rights issues, but he declined.)
It remains to be seen whether the visit will bear any fruit for the Chinese government, but it’s hard to see many of the countries in question budging on some of the fundamental questions that Wang might want to address. Ahead of the foreign minister’s visit to France, slated for Saturday, President Emmanuel Macron doubled down on his preference for European companies to take part in the development of 5G networks on the continent. Although he says that he will not ban Huawei outright, Macron reiterated his preference for European companies Friday, saying that he told Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping, “You would do the same as me back home.”
Wang also visited Norway this week, and during a press conference with the country’s foreign minister addressed a range of topics, including the agenda of the U.N. Security Council and the origins of the coronavirus. (Wang, of course, said that it is unclear that the virus began in China.) The most interesting exchange, though, came from a reporter’s question about the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2010, the Oslo-based Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned Chinese dissident, who was represented by a chair at the award ceremony. China responded by freezing diplomatic relations. Normalization of Sino–Norwegian relations took place six years later, and discussions about boosting economic ties took center stage during Wang’s visit.
However, during this week’s press conference, a reporter also asked Wang how China would respond if the Nobel committee gave the prize to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. Here’s his response, as reported by the South China Morning Post:
“I would only say one thing: In the past, today, and in future, China will firmly reject any attempt by anyone to use the Nobel Peace Prize to interfere in China’s internal affairs. China is rock firm on this principle.
“We don’t want to see anyone politicise the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said.
Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Jim McGovern nominated the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement for the prize in February. With any luck, Wang’s trip will give that push some more attention.