China has denied a visa for a former Norwegian prime minister to attend a religious meeting, apparently still displeased over the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a Chinese dissident more than two years ago.
Kjell Magne Bondevik, whose term in office ended in 2005, was to have been a moderator of the World Council of Churches meeting this week in Nanjing.
"We are disappointed and surprised that the visa ... was not approved," its general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, said in a statement.
He said the Chinese government approved the meeting and knew Bondevik would moderate.
"This is very unfortunate for the work planned and undertaken by the commission," he said.
The visa rejection was reported Tuesday by Aftenposten, the largest Norwegian newspaper.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 prize to imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo and has repeatedly called for his freedom. He is serving an 11-year prison sentence for advocating democratic reforms and China has denounced his sympathizers as supporting a criminal.
The Nobel committee is independent of the Norwegian government, but that has not stopped China from canceling political meetings and purchases of Norwegian salmon.
Aftenposten quoted Bondevik as saying the Chinese Embassy in Oslo gave him no reason and reported he was the only one of the 30 delegates to the World Council of Churches meeting to be denied a visa for the meeting.
China's Foreign Ministry did not respond directly to a question on Bondevik. It said in a faxed statement that Chinese are rejected for visas every day, that visa policies vary by country and that this case should not be "over interpreted."
The Nanjing meeting is the first in China for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches and one of the meeting's themes is was understanding China's religious practices.
There was no immediate response from the China Christian Council in Shanghai, one of the hosts of the meeting.
On the Internet: http://www.aftenposten.no/ (In Norwegian)