With energy high on agenda, China's no.3 leader visits Norway

OSLO (Reuters) - With energy projects high on the agenda, China and Norway will mark a further thaw in relations on Wednesday when Beijing’s third-ranked politician arrives in Oslo.

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The four-day visit by Li Zhanshu, who heads the National People’s Congress, is the most high-profile by a Chinese official since the two countries restored full diplomatic ties three years ago.

The trip, during which Li will meet top politicians and company executives, is also an acknowledgement that Beijing, in the midst of a trade war with Washington, is on the search for new allies.

Relations between Oslo and Beijing were frozen between 2010 and 2016 after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died of liver cancer in 2017.

Li will on Thursday meet executives of, among others, oil firm Equinor and telecom firm Telenor, which has a large Asian operation.

The around 20-strong business delegation accompanying him includes executives from Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, under scrutiny in the West after Washington told its allies not to use its technology because of fears it could be a vehicle for Chinese spying. Huawei has categorically denied this.

Li and executives from China’s top offshore oil and gas producer, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) will visit Norway’s oil capital Stavanger on Friday.

Equinor signed a preliminary deal with another Chinese oil firm, CNPC, to cooperate on oil and gas exploration, rewewables and carbon capture technology in October during a state visit to China by Norway’s King Harald V.

An Equinor spokesman declined to say whether the company planned to sign new deals during Li’s visit.

China is focusing its global trade ambitions on its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect it with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending.

Norway, a member of NATO but not of the European Union, is campaigning to get a temporary seat in 2021-2022 on the United Nations Security Council, where China is a permanent member.

“The Norwegians ...can’t do (that) unless they get China’s nod,” Stein Ringen, a professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Oxford and a specialist on China, told Reuters.

Editing by Gwladys Fouche and John Stonestreet