Norway new member of ASEM

Norway officially became a member of the Asia-Europe Meeting process during the opening ceremony of the 9th ASEM Summit in Vientiane, Laos on Monday.

New ASEM members are also Switzerland and Bangladesh.

In his speech at the opening session, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said it had been a priority for Norway to become member, since Norway is strongly engaged in the issues discussed in ASEM.

- Our interests and activities in Asia build on our long history as a nation of seafarers, Stoltenberg said, and continued:

- Today, our ships are built in this region. And more and more of their business is in Asia. Even Norwegian oilrigs operate here.

- Norway strongly supports closer integration and cooperation between Europe and Asia.

- Our involvement in Asia is steadily expanding. We are currently in the process of entering into a formal cooperation with ASEAN.

Stoltenberg also pointed to the fact that the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund has invested about 80 billion US dollars inAsian equities and fixed income holdings. That is a strong vote of confidence in the Asian economies, he said.

The Norwegian Prime Minister also thanked the assembly for supporting Norwegian membership in ASEM, and said that this summit was a great opportunity to exchange ideas and build new partnerships.

At the end of Monday's meeting Prime Minister Stoltenberg also had a short meeting wwith Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, thanking him personally for his support of Norwegian ASEM membership.

This was the first meeting between Chinese and Norwegian leaders since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo two years ago.

The award caused strained relations between Norway and China, and Stoltenberg said to Norwegian media after the meeting that Norway of course is workiing for a normalization of relations with China.

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