Slowly Taking Off: Nordic-Taiwan Relations

eautiful landscape of lake level reflect fantasy dramatic sunrise sky in Sun Moon Lake , in Taiwan, Asia.
Special Paper April, 2023

Taiwan has in recent years attracted increasing attention all over the world. It has become the focal point of conflict in the U.S.-China rivalry in the Indo-Pacific and has also become a major issue in Sino-European relations. In the Nordic countries, Taiwan has clearly begun to move away from the periphery of people’s view of the world and towards a position more in the foreground. One important reason for this is that the threat to Taiwan from Mainland China seems to have become more imminent. Many people in the Nordic countries worry that the present leaders in Beijing might resort to military force to bring Taiwan under their rule. This threat evokes a strong sense of sympathy for the people of Taiwan among people in the Nordic countries.

The threat from Mainland China is perceived in terms of a big country bullying and threatening a small country. Being small countries themselves, it is easy to understand that bullying and threats from big countries against small countries easily causes resentment in the Nordic countries. In the post-World War II era, we have also seen many examples of this. In this case, Taiwan’s democratization and the perception of Taiwan as one of the few democracies in East Asia while the People’s Republic of China is perceived as increasingly authoritarian further adds to the sympathy for Taiwan. While most people in the Nordic countries probably do not have a definite opinion on whether Taiwan should ideally be part of the same Chinese state as Mainland China, there can hardly be any doubt that the overwhelming majority of people here strongly resent the idea that the government in Beijing should try to bring about unification by means of military force.

Seventy-eight years have now passed since the end of World War II, and during most of this time Taiwan has attracted very little attention and interest from the Nordic countries. This is now changing. We can see this in various fields, not only in politics but also in culture, education, trade, and tourism, etc. From a long-term perspective, people-to-people contacts and cooperation are no doubt most important, because this is how true mutual understanding can develop.

The speed at which each Nordic country is establishing relations with Taiwan varies. In our efforts to gather contributions for this Special Paper, we recognize that although exchanges between individuals have increased, political exchanges take off very slowly, and if not for the aforementioned new international political context, that speed would have remained much slower. We have not deliberately neglected Iceland. Our friend, Professor Geir Sigurðsson at the University of Iceland, has confided to us that there is not much to say about Taiwan-Iceland relations, despite piecemeal contacts.

The Institute for Security and Development Studies (ISDP) in Stockholm is running a Taiwan Project, and this Special Paper—a joint undertaking by the ISDP and Julie Yu-Wen Chen, a Taiwan-born Finn—is one of its outcomes. We are proud to have been able to solicit contributions from people who have been participant observers in the evolution of relations between the Nordic countries and Taiwan for many years. Ambassador Ming-yen Wu served for several years as Taiwan’s first official representative in the Nordic countries and contributed decisively to opening up relations. Ambassador Bengt Johansson has served as the Swedish representative in Taiwan and also worked to promote relations between Sweden and Taiwan in other capacities. Professor Halvor Eifring is a leading Nordic sinologist with deep knowledge of Taiwan that he has gained both from personal experience of Taiwan’s culture and society and from his research. Dr. Jyrki Kallio is a well-respected sinologist in Finland. He has co-authored a chapter with Julie Yu-Wen Chen on the relations between Finland and Taiwan. Professor Andreas Steen is a Denmark-based expert on modern Chinese history and music industry while Professor Koen Wellens is a Norway-based expert on Chinese society and culture, with a special focus on ethnic minorities. In this booklet, they share how Taiwan became part of their academic exploration and intellectual journey.  Mr. Teng-Chian Kuo is a scholar and translator from Taiwan, now living in Sweden, who has translated numerous works from Swedish and Norwegian into Chinese and had them published in Taiwan. We are most grateful to all these friends for their fascinating contributions. Taken together, they paint an interesting picture of the evolving relations between Taiwan and the Nordic countries.

The dimensions of Nordic-Taiwan relations are broader than what are covered in this Special Paper. Our aim is to “throw a brick to attract jade” (拋磚引玉), a concept inspired by a famous Chinese idiom, to encourage both Nordic and Taiwanese efforts to collect memories of our shared past. We believe more dimensions of Nordic-Taiwan relations can and should be uncovered, developed, recorded, and cherished in the years to come.

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