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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Liberals’ leader travels to Taiwan

Guri Melby has long been an outspoken critic of China regarding human rights and respect for its neighbours. Now the leader of Norway’s Liberal Party (Venstre) has become the first high-level Norwegian politician to make an official visit to Taiwan in 14 years, and claims she isn’t worried about how or whether China will react.

The Liberal Party’s leader Guri Melby with Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre at Parliament, just after national elections in 2021. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Melby traveled to Taiwan during the weekend, accompanied by her party’s secretary general, Fredrik O Carstens. They planned to meet Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who represents the Liberals sister party DPP, and several representatives of Taiwan’s government and parliament.

“Venstre is traveling to Taiwan to show them that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder (with them) in their important fight to preserve liberal values that are under pressure,” Melby said. “Our sister party must not feel alone, and they’ll learn that they have supporters in Norway who stand by them in their fight against injustice.”

Melby is a former member of government who’s now even been mentioned as a potential prime minister candidate in a future non-socialist government. She’s an ardent supporter of democracy, human rights and personal freedom, and wants to see first-hand how Taiwan is holding up under pressure from China, which still tries to assert its authority over the small island nation.

Melby of the Liberal Party and Petter Eide of the Socialist Left party mounted a protest against a visiting Chinese delegation outside the Parliament building in Oslo in 2019. Both were appalled by Chinese crackdowns on freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, Tibet and against China’s own Uighur minority at the time. PHOTO: Venstre

China has never recognized Taiwan as a separate nation, and insists it’s still part of China. Taiwan has long been under threat of a Chinese invasion, with leaders in Beijing wanting to gain control over it like they did over Hong Kong.

The US continues to protect Taiwan, though, with resulting military tension in the waters between Taiwan and China and all over the South China Sea, where China has also tried to seize control. Taiwan was on the agenda when US President Joe Biden met last week with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in San Francisco, where they agreed to restore military communications at a high level to avoid any “misunderstandings” over Taiwan.

Melby told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) before she left that China’s military build-up around Taiwan remains a major concern and must be taken seriously. She thinks Norway should put more pressure on China to respect Taiwan’s democracy.

She’s also concerned about a recent Norwegian defense commission’s report that warns of too much dependency on Chinese goods especially within health, telecommunications and various raw materials. “I think it’s important for Norway to be clear towards China that it will have serious consequences for trade and the economy if they destroy what’s called ‘China’s last democracy,'” Melby said. “I think Norway could also be much clearer in its support for Taiwan.”

She called her visit  “important and symbolic” and vowed to carry on with her party’s campaign at home to make Norway less dependent on China, especially in the so-called “green restructuring” of Norway’s own economy. “Our allies in both the US and EU have their own ‘de-risking strategies’ towards China,” Melby said. “In Norway it’s too quiet, and there’s little willingness either in the (Labour-Center) government parties or in the Conservative Party to talk about how vulnerable we are in the event of a potential conflict over Taiwan in the future.” Norway’s two largest parties, Labour and the Conservatives, want to avoid another diplomatic freeze with China, like the one that began in 2009 when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded its Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao. It lasted for seven years.

Melby claims she isn’t trying to be Norway’s equivalent of the US’ Nancy Pelosi, who traveled to Taiwan while still serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives and set off a highly negative reaction from China. Asked by DN whether she’s trying to provoke China, Melby responded “No, absolutely not!” She instead described Taiwan as “a democracy that shares many of our liberal values, but is under strong pressure for China. We want to support Taiwan and strengthen ties between Norway and Taiwan.”

Melby and Carstens were also meeting with local human rights organizations in Taiwan and representatives of Taiwan’s civil society, along with some Norwegian citizens and students in the country. Berglund



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