The Chinese accused, Zhao Fei, is said to confessed to murdering his Norwegian girlfriend. Norway has denied any link to Chinese tit-for-tat anti-diplomacy
Is China going through its own Kübler-Ross process – otherwise known as the Five Stages of Grief – regarding its unwanted Nobel Peace Prize?
We’ve seen a brief flirtation with denial, in the form of a media blackout: that lasted a day or so. What’s followed has been a seemingly endless stream of fuming editorials, dodgy polls and pissy governmental statements.
If we’re lucky, we can look forward to an extended period of depression – Politburo members listening to Leonard Cohen, Foreign Ministry officials responding to questions about US-South Korean naval drills with listless shrugs etc. Less likely, though, is acceptance; that might take a while – a century or so – given that that they still haven’t gotten over the Opium Wars, the Japanese occupation or, God forbid, the Dalai Lama’s Peace Prize.
But if you thought that Beijing’s retaliatory measures merely extended to cancelled fisheries meetings and some (yet-to-be-announced but inevitable) visa difficulties for Norwegian students and businessmen, think again… maybe.
According to reports circulating in Scandinavian media, officials have recently released a suspect Chinese national accused of murdering his Norwegian girlfriend, a surprise move some now suggest may be connected to the Liu Xiaobo controversy.
Foreign student Zhao Fei, 26, was arrested in China after apparently fleeing Hungary last month, where the body of his 21-year-old Norwegian girlfriend, Pernille Marie Thronsen, was discovered stabbed to death in Budapest August 30th. Hungarian police issued an arrest warrant on September 1st , naming Zhao as the sole suspect. A remorseful Zhaon is later said to have turned himself into Chinese cops, and reportedly confessed to the deed.
Yet in a rare (and ironic) display of legal compliance, China has since released Zhao, claiming it cannot hold a suspect longer than 30 days without evidence; Hungarian authorities are unwilling to supply the necessary evidence due to China’s death penalty, a move the Pernille family are said to sympathize with.
Norwegian Foreign Ministry Ragnhild Imerslund has denied the two incidents are in any way linked, telling Norwegian Broadcasting that Zhao was released before the Liu announcement and the government is content with China’s jurisprudence in this case.
Who cannot commend China’s sudden passionate adherence to the constitutional rule of law? Supporters of Liu probably wish it weren’t quite so schizophrenic. Yet the fact that the link is being made is less an example of people just believing anything you say about China – albeit there are plenty of those around – more that China’s global stage presence over the last year or so has shrunken the credibility gap by ten years.
Ever since Premier Wen personally blanked President Obama (and possibly helped wreck Copenhagen), China has been the dick in the room, alternated between swaggering and petulant, with the occasional self-flagellating cry of “We’re still developing!” Indelicate? Whether they are ignoring North Korean complicity in the Cheonan tragedy, declaring the entire South China Sea suddenly sovereign Chinese territory or flouting international trade law by embargoing rare earth exports to Japan (while, of course, denying it), the prevailing attitude emanating from Zhongnanhai could diplomatically be described as bullish. Others might prefer hawkish, or simply hubristic.
Publicly alienating South Korea, all but wrecking a decade plus of ASEAN diplomacy, driving Japan and Vietnam into the US’s embrace and locking up pretty much everybody connected with human rights because they won the wrong Nobel are surely not examples of reasoned, respectable governance befitting a leading world power.
If nothing else, such acts, coupled with the country’s infamous lack of transparency, give credibility to all kind of damaging rumors – like thinking that China would release a murderer just because he killed the right foreign national. People are once again starting to believe anything about China – and how can that be good for Beijing?
Yet let’s not forget the most important thing about this sorry tale: are we really to expect that Pernille Thronsen and her family will be forever denied justice because of a Chinese legal loophole? That surely would be the hardest story of all to believe.