China's government denied a visa request to the proposed moderator for the first World Council of Churches meeting taking place in the country this week.
Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Norwegian prime minister and a Lutheran pastor told reporters in Oslo that development may be linked to decision by a non-governmental group's decision to give the Nobel Prize in 2010 to dissident Liu Xiaobo, Norwegian daily Aftenposten reported Tuesday.
Bondevik said the Chinese embassy in Oslo gave no reason for the denial, according to the report.
China's Foreign Ministry told AP in a faxed statement that Chinese are rejected for visas every day, that visa policies vary by country and that the current case should not be "over interpreted." Bondevik said he was the only one of 30 delegates whose visa was rejected.
WCC General Secretary Rev. Olav Fukse Tveit told the Associated press "we are disappointed and surprised that the visa … was not approved."
Tveit told AP that the Chinese government knew Bondevik would be the meeting's moderator.
The June 9 to 16 meeting, announced by the WCC at the start of the month, is being organized by the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.
The CCIA is a body within the Council that gives advice on public policy and advocacy while also analyzing systemic issues that underlie injustice and social transformation. The CCIA's work also involves promoting a peaceful and reconciling role of religion in conflicts and on inter-religious dialogue.
The meeting is being hosted by the Chinese government's China Christian Council and the National Committee of the Three Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China.
The WCC notes that the CCC, with 23 million members is the largest member constituency of the WCC in Asia.
Main deliberations, taking place in Nanjing, will include a seminar on "Understanding China." The issues covered will include "diverse perspectives on market reforms and the development in socialist systems, poverty eradication and environmental sustainability, China's religions and religious policies, churches in China and other themes."