Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will hold top-level talks in Norway on Thursday as Beijing tries to forge frosty relations in the region into strategic partnerships.
In meetings in Oslo with Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, Wang is expected to focus on the coronavirus pandemic and the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.
A Norwegian diplomatic source said Wang could try to stress the need for various countries to work together.
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“China is most likely going to cast Norway as a partner to uphold multilateralism given that Norway just took a rotational presidency at the UN Security Council,” the source said.
Human rights will also be on the table, according to Søreide, making Norway the third country in a row on Wang’s European trip to raise issues such as Hong Kong. Italy and the Netherlands raised similar concerns. Wang will also visit France and Germany.
In addition, Trine Skei Grande, leader of the Norwegian Liberal Party and education minister until March, will speak at a protest on human rights during the visit.
However, the main issue is expected to be a free-trade agreement between the two countries.
Former Norwegian ambassador to China Geir Otto Pedersen once expected the deal to be concluded by 2019, but discussions are ongoing.
On Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing was hopeful of progress.
“We ... hope [Wang’s] visit will inject new impetus into China-Norway practical cooperation, especially negotiation on a free-trade agreement,” Zhao said.
“China stands ready to work together with Norway to act on the important consensus of our leaders.”
Wang’s arrival in Norway comes as China struggles to get a warm welcome in Scandinavia. Ties with Sweden have been strained by Beijing’s detention of bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish passport holder. Sweden has also called for sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials over the introduction of the city’s national security law.
Meanwhile, Denmark has appeared to move closer to the United States, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visiting Copenhagen in July and the US reopening a consulate in Greenland, a Danish Arctic territory, after a 67-year absence.
Copenhagen has also blocked Chinese bids to build airports in Greenland, where the US has stationed troops and a ballistic missile early warning system.
Like Norway, the US is a member of the Arctic Council and has stepped up resistance to China‘s geopolitical ambition in the region, especially since Beijing introduced the Polar Silk Road initiative two years ago.
Norway is also a non-EU country – and has first-hand experience of a frozen diplomatic relationship with China in recent years.
When the Oslo-based Nobel Peace Prize committee gave its 2010 award to late Chinese political dissident Liu Xiaobo, China immediately halted most diplomatic exchanges with Norway.
Six years passed before Norway sent then-foreign minister Børge Brende to Beijing to normalise relations. At that time, Wang said Norway “deeply reflected upon the reasons why bilateral mutual trust was harmed”, and had “conscientious, solemn consultations” with China about how to improve bilateral relations.
But the 10-day state visit to China by Norwegian King Harald in 2018 has so far not been reciprocated with a trip by President Xi Jinping.
The most senior Chinese envoy to visit Norway in recent years has been Li Zhanshu, head of the National People’s Congress and China’s third-ranking official. Li visited Oslo in 2019, calling on the prime minister to help safeguard global mechanisms, build an open world economy, and support multilateralism and free trade together with China.
More from South China Morning Post:
- 5G unease and concerns over human rights issues mar China’s charm offensive through Europe
- China’s foreign minister Wang Yi tells European Union not to get caught up in ‘new Cold War’
- Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok raises Hong Kong and human rights concerns with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi
- Human rights cast shadow over China Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Netherlands visit
This article Human rights, trade on agenda as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrives in Norway first appeared on South China Morning Post