China’s envoy nurtured reconciliation

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Hovering in the background of many of the official photos from events tied to Norway’s and China’s recent reconciliation is a tall Chinese man named Wang Min. His active presence, not least in company with top Chinese leaders, confirms his role as one of the most important players in the diplomatic thaw between the two countries after six years of conflict over a Nobel Peace Prize.

China’s ambassador to Norway, Wang Min, took part in this year’s skrei/cod-fishing competition off Lofoten. At left, Norwegian Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg, who was in China last week to promote seafood exports. PHOTO: Nærings- og fiskeridepartementet

The 54-year-old Wang, who arrived in Oslo just over a year ago as China’s new ambassador to Norway, is a career diplomat. According to his biography from his years at the United Nations, he initially studied foreign languages but moved on to China’s Foreign Affairs University and landed his first attaché post at the Chinese Embassy in Yemen, at an age of just 22. From there he had a rapid rise in Beijing and, after more studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, in Geneva before landing the important post, in 2010, as China’s ambassador to the UN.

It may have seemed like a step down to be sent to Oslo last April after six years in New York, but it was likely a major clue that the diplomatic freeze between Norway and China was important to both countries, and about to end. Wang immediately started making the rounds of embassy receptions and events around Oslo and, most significantly, paving the way towards a new agreement on cooperation between Norway and China that was announced in December.

Wang Min, China’s ambassador to Norway (standing in the background at right), was always close at hand when Prime Minister Erna Solberg made her triumphant official visit to China in April. The trip restored relations between the two countries, and Wang played a major role in reconciliation efforts. In this photo, Solberg is deliveriing a “sustainability football” to Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, just days after Xi met new US President Donald Trump in Florida. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Espen Gullikstad

“He’s been an extremely important brick in the rebuilding of relations,” Gerhard Heiberg, Norway’s veteran member of the International Olympic Committee who has many ties of his own to China, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) shortly after the conflict was resolved. Heiberg often deplored the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo that had set off the conflict.

Wang “was assigned to improve the relation, and had a unique background for that after six years as a UN ambassador,” Heiberg said. “I have spent a lot of time with him, also in Northern Norway, where we have spoken about all the possibilities for common understanding between Norway and China.”

Not everyone appreciated Heiberg’s personal engagement in the conflict, or his criticism of how the former left-center government handled it. Now it’s over, but criticism remains from others who think Norway is making too many concessions to the Chinese, by not addressing human rights issues.

That will come later, the current Norwegian government leaders have claimed, after mutual trust is rebuilt. Heiberg sees huge potential for sharing Norway’s winter sports expertise with Chinese officials who are preparing to host the 2022 Olympics that Norwegians didn’t want. Seafood sales, oil, technology and cultural exchanges are likely to follow.

“As I’ve said all along, ‘first the politics had to come into place, then all the other things,'” Heiberg said.

Wang has been working on many of those things, from heading up to Lofoten to take part in Norway’s annual cod fishing competition, to accompanying ministers at high-level meetings on trade, investment, salmon sales and Arctic cooperation. When Foreign Minister Børge Brende first flew to Beijing to confirm the reconciliation, Wang was sitting right next to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the first important meeting in Beijing. He was also close by when Prime Minister Solberg met China’s powerful president, Xi Jinping in Beijing last month.

The intensity may now subside but Wang will likely continue to play a major role during the remainder of his posting to Oslo. Norwegian Oil & Energy Minister Terje Søviknes will be the next minister to visit China, after Sandberg’s and Culture Minister Linda Hofstad Helleland’s visits last week, while Chinese investors are expected to set off a wave of acquisitions in Norway. Wang will undoubtedy be involved in much of that as well.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund