Norway’s King Harald V got some support from Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday, both in the literal and figurative sense. Xi reportedly slowed his pace and helped the 81-year-old monarch up some stairs during state visit ceremonies in Beijing, and confirmed that the two countries are friends again.
“With this visit we are renewing the traditional friendship between our two countries,” Xi stated when meeting Norway’s royal couple. Norway and China were stuck in a six-year diplomatic freeze after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.
Xi noted that Norway and China have built up mutual confidence since the freeze melted in 2016, and “strengthened cooperation in areas such as culture, the Arctic and tourism.” He added that “this visit renews our friendship.”
Norwegian media covering the state visit reported that King Harald reciprocated by inviting Xi on a state visit to Norway, which Xi accepted. No date has been set.
As Chinese and Norwegian flags waved outdoors, the two men headed indoors for talks. King Harald has promised to bring up Norway’s concerns over the human rights situation in China. Several cooperation agreements are also due to be signed before the day would conclude with a banquet.
The royals’ meeting with Xi is considered the climax of the state visit that’s meant to symbolize the restortion of diplomatic relations between Norway and China. Norway was among the first countries to recognize the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 but the two countries’ “traditional friendship” was immediately revoked after the Peace Prize to Liu, which offended Chinese officials and challenged their authority.
Both the monarch and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide insist, however, that respect for human rights is and must remain a central theme in discussions with Chinese authorities.