bad news in China for ‘Norway’s Ikea’: Listeria found in salmon, partial import ban

These aren’t the best days for Norwegian salmon in China. Just when it became known that China plans to block imports from three Norwegian counties on health grounds, Listeria was found in Norwegian salmon in Sichuan and Hong Kong.

First, news came from Norway’s food safety authority (Mattilsynet) that China would start forbidding importing salmon from the Norwegian counties of Nordland, Troms and Sør-Trøndelag, due to fears of ISA (infectious salmon anaemia) contagion to local fish farms. The Norwegians contend that such fears are unfounded: to begin with, there’s no way fish from Norway can pass the ISA virus to their Chinese brethren, since they arrive to China dead and frozen and are sold to humans. And the Chinese claim seems to be that Norway doesn’t comply with OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) standards, while the Norwegians assert they do and say they have provided documents to the Chinese authorities to back up that claim. According to an official from the Norwegian food authority who talked to Aftenposten, the Chinese have their own risk assessment report, which the Norwegians haven’t been able to see while having trouble “getting in contact” with their Chinese counterparts.

Chinese authorities had already found ISA in Norwegian salmon imports in Shenzhen in May last year and ordered the destruction of 13 tonnes of it. Other (other than ISA) tainted Norwegian salmon had been found and destroyed earlier that yea and in 2013.

News of the new import ban has made it back to Chinese news sites, including for example on a Ministry of Commerce domain, but still sourcing the story to the Norwegian food authority and largely with the same content (minus the Norwegian claim that they do comply with international standards), without an official confirmation from the relevant Chinese authority.

The ISA virus poses no risk to humans.

Meanwhile, Listeria has been found in Norwegian salmon imported by a Sichuan trading company, leading to the destruction of 6.5 tonnes. Norwegian salmon processed in Hong Kong was also found to be tainted and recalled, according to the local Centre for Food Safety. There’s no indication of any connection between the Listeria incidents and the ISA issue, and at least in the Hong Kong case independent authorities are involved.

These bad news come around the time when Norwegian PM Erna Solberg has emphasised the importance of salmon for the Norwegian economy (‘Salmon is Norway’s Ikea‘, a motto duly quoted by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce). Li Yong 李勇, head of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the first Chinese politician (he’s a former vice minister) to reach the top of such an organisation, was in Bergen earlier this month at t

he North Atlantic Seafood Forum, where he reportedly said he thinks Norwegian salmon exports are bound to increase in the long term, “also in China” (Sysla).

It’s hard to say if the ISA-related ban has anything to do with China’s protracted retaliation for the award of the Nobel peace prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波 in 2010. I suppose the key is whether the Norwegian food authority statement that they do satisfy international requirements on ISA prevention is indeed true, i.e. whether the Chinese ban is actually justified.

Imports of Norwegian salmon were hit hard by the Nobel punishment (I’ve discussed some exchanges between the two countries that were affected by the crisis, and others that weren’t, towards the end of an article from 2013), so it wouldn’t be surprising for them to continue to be used as a diplomatic tool.

Relations remain at a low level. Last January, news emerged that Huang Nubo‘s purchase of land in Norway has been stalled until relations between the two countries are in order. In February, Chinese diplomats forecast “a negative impact” in relations with Norway after Norwegian authorities expelled a Chinese PhD student accused of spying. The Global Times (环球时报), a state-owned nationalistic tabloid, blamed the Norwegian government for a new freeze in bilateral ties, and quoted Cui Hongjian 崔洪建 from the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS, 中国国际问题研究所), a government-affiliated think tank: “The Norwegian government either wants to develop communication and good trade relations with China, or it will be shouting slogans about so-called human rights and democracy. They need to make up their minds.”

massive eucrite meteorite found by Chinese team in Antarctica

A 1299 gram eucrite meteorite found in February last year by the 30th Chinese Antarctic Research Expedition (南极科学考察) has reached the mainstream news (新华) after Miao Bingkui 缪秉魁 from Guilin University of Technology (桂林理工大学), where the meteorite has been studied, talked about it at an event in Caoyang 曹杨 Middle School in Shanghai. The meteorite, christened GRV13001, was discovered in Grove Mountains, Chinese finds from where have made news in the past.

Less than three pounds might not seem to qualify as ‘massive’ if we’re talking about meteorites in general (a Korean team has recently (video!) found a 36.7 kg meteorite some 300 km from the just opened Jang Bogo base (장보고 기지)), but it is significant for this specific type. The Meteoritical Society‘s Meteoritical Bulletin database registers only maybe a dozen heavier eucrites (out of a total of 310), with the heaviest one at 5.2 kg. The biggest eucrite meteorite from Antarctica is the 3.7 kg Thiel Mountains 07014, found by the Koreans in 2008.

Eucrites are pieces of basaltic rock assumed to come from 4 Vesta in the asteroid belt. This is quite serendipitous, as my previous post discussed how a thick layer of basalt is making it so hard for CNOOC and Ithaca to see if there’s any oil in their patch of the Icelandic Jan Mayen area.

The Chinese name for Vesta, 灶神星 Zàoshénxīng is a bit peculiar. Minor planets with names taken from Classical mythology generally have (informal) Chinese names that translate the name of the original deity, while in non-astronomical context names of Greek and Roman gods are generally transcribed. Thus Vesta, the goddess, is normally 维斯塔 Wéisītǎ, which sounds roughly like ‘Vesta’, while the 灶神 Zàoshén part of the name of the asteroid means ‘hearth spirit’. Now what’s peculiar is that in this case the astronomical ‘spirit’ name is actually a name for the Kitchen God of Chinese folk religion and Taoism, which might or might not have been intentional (those astronomical translations of mythological names generally have no connection with specific Chinese mythical entities).

not just CNOOC to explore for oil off Iceland this year

Ithaca Energy, the operator for one of the two offshore oil and gas licenses in the Icelandic Jan Mayen area (Drekasvæðið), are planning to start 2D measurements this year, reports Vísir. Ithaca are thus joining China’s state-owned CNOOC (中海油), the operator of the other license and by far the biggest company with an interest in Icelandic oil, who have similar plans according to an announcement from last year.

CNOOC’s local partner, Eykon Energy, said in January that they’re optimistic about the project and undeterred by low oil prices. Faroe Petroleum, where Korea’s KNOC has a stake, don’t share such optimism and relinquished their own Jan Mayen license in December after preliminary studies yielded disappointing results.

The problem with any potential hydrocarbon reserves in the area is that they mostly lie under a thick layer of basaltic lava. Surface measurements like the ones planned for this year might not be enough to ascertain if there’s any oil worth extracting down there, making it hard to settle down the question without rather costly deepwater drilling. Those were precisely the reasons why the Faroe-led group gave up on the area, and Ithaca’s reported will to spend money on exploration counts as the first sign of optimism not coming from the CNOOC-Eykon partnership themselves (people with Eykon have a long record of enthusiasm about the area’s prospects).

More about Icelandic oil in my longish CNOOC backgrounder and here and there in shorter posts.

Chinese plans for an Arctic research base in Canada?

PRIC (Polar Research Institute of China) director Yang Huigen 杨惠根, channelled by the Globe and Mail, says China might be interested in building a research station in northern Canada. According to other sources quoted by the newspaper, Tuktoyaktuk, a hamlet in the Northwest Territories, a couple hundred kilometres from the Alaskan border, seems to be a location under consideration because of the region’s oil hydrocarbon potential. Channelled by the Global Times, he denies clearly airing such an intention.

Arctic research cooperation between China and Canada was the topic of an event held last week at the Canadian embassy in Beijing. Chinese media reporting on the event (‘Canada welcomes Chinese participation in Arctic cooperation‘) summarises scientific exchanges between the two countries in that domain but makes no mention of plans for a new base. The event was attended by the Canadian ambassador, Guy Saint-Jacques (赵朴), as well as by David Hik, a University of Alberta biologist who sits at the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) and the Canadian Polar Commission. Mr Hik also visited the PRIC in Shanghai, where he talked about the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), expected to open in 2017 in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Addressing a public that included Arctic scientists and the freshly appointed Canadian general consul in Shanghai, Claude Demers (邓凯), Hik also referred to climate change, fisheries and clean energy among potential areas for future scientific cooperation between the two countries.

The Globe and Mail quotes Hik as being rather sceptical towards the idea of a Chinese NWT station. Rather than a separate base, a Chinese station would be “co-located directly within the Canadian research facilities”.

China has a research base in the Arctic, the Yellow River Station (黄河站) in Svalbard. There is also the Chinese-Icelandic aurora observatory in Kárhóll, near Akureyri. The observatory has been the object of some mild controversy in the past and perhaps something similar could be expected if plans for a base in Canada take a more concrete form.

We can already imagine what such a controversy could look like. Robert Huebert, a University of Calgary academic with a focus on Arctic security, questioned the wisdom of providing “a state that is that authoritarian” with the ability to “observe within the North”. These remarks, included in the Globe and Mail article, quickly made their way to the Global Times (环球时报), a state-owned nationalist tabloid, where they mutated into an article that refers to Canadian media fears that China ‘covets’ their territory. That’s what the title says; the article body eventually makes clear we’re talking about ‘coveting Canadian soil’ just to plant a research station on it. The article opens with a translation of Huebert’s comments, which is largely word-for-word except that the word ‘authoritarian’ (state) is replaced with its near-synonym ‘such’ (a country).

The Global Times asked Yang if he had talked about plans for a research base in Canada. Yang denied he explicitly referred to such plans.

I’ve written in the past about media debate over various Chinese projects in the Arctic, including nonexistent ones, such as poet-tycoon Huang Nubo’s alleged plans to buy Austre Adventfjord, a large coal-rich property in Svalbard. The Global Times is a reliable echo chamber for talk of various ‘fears’ in the Western press, and for their deconstruction. I’ve had occasion to discuss the paper’s style and editorial habits in a previous post.

new post: Shock and ore

If you’re looking for an overview of Chinese mining activities in Greenland thorough enough to talk your fellow dinner-party guests into submission, then I know where you can procure one. The University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog has just posted such an overview, titled “Shock and ore“, in which I go over the mining ventures with some degree of Chinese participation, with an emphasis on General Nice, the new owner of the Isua mine.

new article: a General Nice backgrounder

While no one seems to be expecting to see much actual mining at the Isua project in Greenland any time soon, I thought its new Chinese owner, General Nice (俊安集团), was worth a closer look, since so little has been written about the company. So I’ve put together a ‘backgrounder’ with highlights from my recent, and not so recent, research on General Nice for everyone to enjoy. Admittedly Isua, an asset which, by all accounts, its new owner plans to simply sit on for the time being, isn’t the hottest topic in the grand scheme of things, but I think the story makes up for that medium-to-low hotness with a flashback to the Shanxi coal rush, with its polluted skies and wild bribing, and a showdown with the ousted ruler of Burkina Faso. Go read the whole thing (still being edited but already up) and confound your fellow dinner-party guests with more General Nice trivia than a barrel of General Nice wine can wash down.

Danish, South Korean officials discuss Arctic navigation

Officials including Jeon Ki-Jeong 전기정, who leads the shipping and logistics bureau at South Korea’s ministry of oceans and fisheries (해양수산부), and Andreas Nordseth, director of the Danish Maritime Authority (Søfartsstyrelsen) and IMO sec-gen candidate, were scheduled to meet last Friday in Seoul to discuss cooperation between the two countries in Northern Sea Route navigation and talked about fostering the cruise industry. They also renewed a MOU on maritime shipping the two countries signed in 2012, making it valid for another three years.