A Norwegian minister hailed former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as the world's most important leader since World War Two in an apparent effort by the Oslo government to repair ties with the world's second biggest economy.

Relations between the two nations have been frozen since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the 2010 Peace Prize for his non-violent human rights struggle.

A call by Norway in October to normalise ties was rejected by China which said the Nobel decision constituted interference in its internal affairs.

I have no doubt the development of China is the most important thing to happen in our lifetime. The country has lifted itself enormously in the past three decades, socially and scientifically. There was no one who predicted that, Erik Solheim, Norway's international aid and environment minister, was quoted as saying by the daily Aftenposten on Thursday.

If someone thinks there's another political leader (than Deng) who has been more important, I would like to discuss it.

Solheim's comments were another conciliatory step by Norway, said Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo.

My immediate reaction is that this seems very much to be part of a larger drive by the Norwegian government to re-establish relations with China, he told Reuters. It is really very hard to say if it will work.

From what we know from the Chinese attitude, it is very uncertain. There is a hope in part of the Norwegian administration that once the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is over and 12 months have past, things will improve.

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakul Karman in Oslo on December 10.

China has shelved bilateral free-trade talks with Norway and cancelled or avoided meetings with Norwegian ministers since the October 2010 announcement of the award to Liu.

Exports to China by Norwegian salmon producers like Marine Harvest have plunged this year because of protracted inspections at the Chinese border.

Norway's Statoil has linked a lack of access to Chinese shale gas fields to Liu's Nobel award.

Bilateral trade as a whole, however, rose in the first half of 2011 and business deals that China wanted have gone ahead.

China's Sinochem finalised a $3 billion (1 billion pounds) purchase of a Brazilian oilfield stake from Statoil while China National BlueStar bought Norwegian conglomerate Orkla's silicon operations for $2 billion.

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; writing by Balazs Koranyi; editing by Robert Woodward)