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Democracies like Sweden and Taiwan ‘should support each other’

In the latest of our interviews with international envoys, we catch up with Klement Gu, Taiwan’s representative to Sweden, about his impressions of Sweden, healthy trade ties, and how Sweden can support Taiwan amid tensions with China. 

Klement Gu
Klement Gu, Taiwan's Representative to Sweden. Photo courtesy of Taipei Mission in Sweden

Klement Gu enjoys playing with words and has hit on what he thinks is a fitting acronym for his host nation. 

“Sweden is a Smart, Wise, Efficient, Democratic and Equal Nation,” the Representative of the Taipei Mission in Sweden tells The Local. 

Having previously served in Germany and Switzerland, he’s also well versed in German and Nordic-language translations of the word democracy. 

“I’ve always said that in Taiwan we have very good tea. We have very good black tea, green tea, high mountain tea, oolong tea, bubble tea, even our guarantee. However, the best tea in Taiwan is our demokrati.” 

It’s a theme he returns to often over the course of our conversation: although very few countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, democracies all over the world have a duty to stand up for each other in the face of threats like those levelled against Taiwan by its authoritarian neighbour China. 

One way countries like Sweden can support Taiwan is simply by sending more political delegations, Gu says. Another is to push for Taiwan to be granted observer status in international organisations. Last year, for example, ten countries including the US, UK, and EU members Germany, France and Lithuania gave their backing to Taiwan’s bid for inclusion in the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva. Klement Gu would like to see Sweden lend its voice to similar calls when the WHA convenes again this May. 

“Hopefully the representative of Sweden can use this opportunity to speak up,” he says. 

“Democratic countries should support each other and sit together and do some common action.”

Hear more from Taiwan’s representative on how Sweden can aid Taiwan in the Sweden in Focus podcast (18:08 minutes in).

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Like many other countries, including the US, UK and the entire EU bloc, Sweden follows a One China Policy. This means Sweden accepts Beijing’s claim that there is only one China but rejects China’s territorial claims to Taiwan. 

However, a lack of formal diplomatic relations does not preclude thriving business ties. Trade volumes between Taiwan and Sweden now amount to $1.7 billion, says Gu. Also, last year Sweden’s parliament took the “very good initiative” of voting by a large majority to institute a House of Sweden in Taipei, similar to the Washington DC building that’s home to the US embassy and was designed to nurture cultural and commercial relations between the US and Sweden.

The Social Democrats, who led the government last year, were the only party to vote against the plans for a House of Sweden in Taipei. By contrast, the centre-right parties now in government were all in favour. And in a further sign that Sweden’s new government could potentially strengthen relations with Taiwan, Sweden last month appointed a new representative to Taipei, Anders Wollter. The government stressed that Wollter would be based in Taiwan full time, unlike his predecessor who reportedly raised eyebrows in diplomatic circles by spending most of his time in Sweden. 

Taipei’s representative in Sweden meanwhile says he is “very satisfied” with his life in a country that is home to an estimated 2,600 Taiwanese people. The Formosa cultural association helps bring the community together and the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce facilitates trade. 

A few cultural quirks have surprised him since coming to Sweden, he says. For instance, after a stint in Germany, where cash is still king, Sweden’s near cashless society came as a shock. “Everywhere you just use your card”. He also wasn’t expecting the uniformity of Swedes’ winter clothing. “On the street most people’s coats are either black or grey”. 

Before we part, Klement Gu stresses how determined he is to build bridges between Sweden and Taiwan and how he wants more Swedes to discover Taiwan. To help make his case he pulls out a final acronym, this time for Taiwan. 

“Traveling Around Is Wonderful And Necessary. Therefore we sincerely welcome all of you to come to Taiwan.”

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For members


Canada’s ambassador: ‘Exciting to see’ rapid rate of growth in northern Sweden

In the latest of our interviews with ambassadors to Sweden, we catch up with Canada's Jason LaTorre to talk about Canadians in Sweden, the countries' growing trade relationship, indigenous rights, and why he'll likely be wearing green and white on the first Sunday of April.

Canada's ambassador: 'Exciting to see' rapid rate of growth in northern Sweden

Canada’s ambassador to Sweden Jason LaTorre is diplomatic to a fault, but when it comes to football teams in Stockholm he has taken sides: 

“I really enjoy going to the Hammarby games. So I became a Hammarby fan and I’m really excited about the inaugural game on April 2nd.”

It’s clear that Jason LaTorre is enjoying his first ambassadorial role following previous foreign stints as trade commissioner in places as far-flung as Ho Chi Minh City, Washington DC and Singapore. 

Three visits to northern Sweden in particular have made a big impression since he took over as ambassador in September 2021. 

“I was expecting beautiful nature and the vibrant culture of the north, and that’s very much present. But what surprised me a lot is that these cities are really bustling, and growing very, very quickly and that’s exciting to see,” he says of his visits to places including Skellefteå, Kiruna, Umeå and Luleå.

The region’s high-quality universities and business incubators and accelerators are all helping attract “incredibly diverse talent and young people, which is adding to the vibrancy of northern Sweden”, he says. 

A recent find of rare earth minerals has further added to the appeal of an area already leading the green transition through companies like Northvolt, Hybrit and H2 Green Steel.

But while mineral finds and large-scale industrial expansion might be good for jobs and the economy, they can also cause tensions locally, says LaTorre. 

“It’s important that this growth is sustainable and inclusive, and that they take into consideration the interests and needs of the local population, including the Sami community, to ensure that the benefits of this economic growth are spread widely and diversely across the population, so that the economic growth contributes to the cultural diversity in northern Sweden.”

To this end, Canada and Sweden are currently working to enhance collaboration between their respective indigenous populations, he says. In 2021 Sweden launched a Truth Commission to investigate abuses of Sami people and LaTorre says he offered his assistance to the chair of the commission, Kerstin Calissendorff, to give insights into Canada’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

“She took me up on the offer and we’ve been sharing some information,” says the ambassador. 

“They’ve got really good questions and we’re providing any support they need. We’re happy to share insights and connect them to people in Canada.”

These kinds of community bonds help bolster a diplomatic relationship between Sweden and Canada that celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. 

Alongside 85,000 annual visitors, LaTorre estimates that there are 7,500 Canadians living in Sweden “and they are contributing in so many different ways to Sweden and to bringing our countries closer together”.

Hockey players and other athletes also help forge stronger ties, he says, as do creative Canadians like Michael Cavanagh, artistic director for the Swedish Royal Opera, and Lara Szabo Greisman, co-founder of Nobel Week Lights. 

He also highlights local community builders like Mike Prentice, the president of the Canadian Club in Stockholm, who “organises this incredible Thanksgiving dinner every year as well as a Canada Day picnic here in Stockholm”.

“And then we’ve got someone like Jeff Lewis, for example, who lives in Umeå. And he’s been hosting Canada Day events for eight years in a row and even has Canadian beer on tap.” 

LaTorre also heralds the “active and growing” trade relationship between Canada and Sweden. 

“Over the last five-year period, we’ve actually seen a growth in two-way trade of almost 20 percent, which is great to see.”

He returns often to the countries’ shared values, noting that Canada was the first country to ratify Sweden’s Nato application. 

“We are living through some turbulent and unpredictable times. And I think as trusted, reliable partners with common values, there’s tremendous opportunity for us to do more together to help lead the world’s energy and digital transition, to help reduce dependencies on authoritarian regimes, and to enhance the security and resilience of our supply chains and those of our allies.”

For most of his time in Sweden, LaTorre’s energies will be focused on deepening these ties. But for a few hours on a Sunday in early April he’ll be thinking only of one thing: Hammarby’s opening match of the new season, when the Stockholm side take on Degerfors.  

“I plan to march with the rest of the march. I did it last year too,” he says referring to the Hammarby fans’ high-spirited annual pilgrimage from Södermalm to the Tele2 Arena for the first home game of the new season. 

Then quickly he’s back in diplomat mode.

“But honestly speaking, I think all the Swedish teams in the league are very, very good. I love the passion they play with. And I love the fan support. It’s just super exciting.”