Oslo - The government of Norway has “not decided” whether representatives will meet with the Dalai Lama during his planned visit to the country next month, as such a meeting could further strain ties with China, Foreign Minister Borge Brende said on Wednesday.
“It is a really tough issue, a challenging dilemma,” Brende said during question time in parliament.
“If Norwegian authorities receive the Dalai Lama, it will be more difficult to normalise relations with China,” he added.
The exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists is due to visit May 7 to 9, marking the 25th anniversary of his win of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Ties between Oslo and Beijing have been deep-frozen since 2010, the year jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiabo won the peace prize for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
Shortly after Brende's appearance in parliament, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson was reported to have cautioned Norway against meeting with the Dalai Lama, public broadcaster NRK reported.
Brende - a one-time head of parliament's committee on Tibet - said he was “not aware of any other Western nation” that had not had a bilateral dialogue with China for several years.
In his replies to opposition parliamentarians, Brende said it was important to have “direct contacts” with China on issues ranging from climate change to human rights and the crisis in Syria.
Norway's centre-right government, which took office in October, has stated that it wanted to improve relations with China.
The peace prize is awarded by a five-member committee that is appointed by parliament, but independent of the government.
But the fact of the committee's independence has not swayed China.
It halted talks with the former Norwegian government on a free trade agreement and cancelled ministerial meetings and business delegation visits after Liu won the award.
Members of the opposition noted Wednesday that, in 2005, Norway's then prime minister Kjell Magne Bondeik met with the Dalai Lama.
The speaker of the Norwegian parliament has said he would not meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit.
A poll commissioned by the Oslo daily VG said six in 10 polled said that either Prime Minister Erna Solberg or Brende, or both, should meet with the Dalai Lama.
Half of the about 1 000 people polled by telephone on Tuesday said it would be cowardly not to meet the Dalai Lama due to relations with China, while 14 per cent said the government should abstain, VG said.
The 78-year-old fled to India after China cracked down on a Tibetan uprising in March 1959.
The Dalai Lama was invited by the Norwegian Nobel Institute, the Norwegian Tibet Committee and the Buddhist Federation of Norway and Karma Tashi Ling Buddhist Society. - Sapa-dpa