OSLO/BEIJING Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg will travel to China next week to meet President Xi Jinping, Norway said on Friday, the first visit by a Norwegian premier since the countries resumed diplomatic relations in December.
Until then relations between Oslo and Beijing had been on ice, because of the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
"China is our largest trading partner in Asia," Solberg said in a statement.
"The normalisation of our relations will create major opportunities for Norwegian businesses and for job creation. We also hope to resume negotiations on a free trade agreement with China."
The trip will take place from April 7 to 10. Solberg will meet President Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, as well as other officials.
In Beijing, at a regular news briefing, China's foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang confirmed the visit.
Asked if China and Norway would resume a dialogue on human rights, Lu said there were no obstacles, so long as both sides returned to the foundation of mutual respect.
"But we resolutely oppose any country, in any way, using so-called human rights problems to interfere in another country's internal affairs," he added.
Liu, a dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests crushed by the Chinese army, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 on subversion charges for organising a petition urging an end to one-party rule. He remains in prison. The row between Oslo and Beijing led to the cancellation of talks for a two-way trade pact and difficulties for several Norwegian companies seeking to trade in China, such as salmon exporters like Marine Harvest or Grieg Seafood. Still, the $915-billion Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, was able to invest in mainland China during that time, and Norwegian oil firm Statoil was able to collaborate with Chinese oil companies CNOOC and Sinochem in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil, respectively.
The Nobel peace prize winner is chosen by a committee in Oslo, while other recipients of the annual awards are decided in Stockholm.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche in OSLO and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Clarence Fernandez)