TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — “Taiwan is a beacon of democracy” was the message at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Taipei on Thursday (Nov. 3), which saw a number of high-profile activists speak out against China, Russia, and other authoritarian regimes around the world.
Held at the Grand Hyatt Taipei in Xinyi District, the forum had the theme “Champion of Change.” It is the third time Taiwan has hosted the event, which was last held here two years ago because of the pandemic.
As the first speaker, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) praised the dissidents who have stood up against tyranny and the “everyday heroes who have changed the world.”
Speaking of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the increasingly aggressive machinations of China directed against Taiwan, Wu said “we all need to ramp up our efforts” to protect freedom and democracy. He added that there had been “an acceleration in democratic backsliding” in a number of states and nations, such as Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Gambia.
Wu said Taiwan stood by Ukraine and had supported it substantially with aid and finance. “Taiwan and Ukraine are united against authoritarian expansionism,” he said. “We work to uphold democratic resilience at home and abroad.”
Looking back at the “struggle” of the Martial Law period (1947-1987), Wu said Taiwan had itself overcome authoritarianism and tyranny. It was the sacrifice of dissidents and freedom fighters then who had paved the way to democracy and freedom now, he said.
Referencing Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) National Day address on Oct. 10, Wu said Taiwan needed to be resilient and had made a commitment to defend itself against China — which he called a “malicious neighbor” — “no matter how much external pressure we face.”
Wu was introduced by President of the Human Rights Foundation Celine Assaf-Boustani, who said the world had changed so much since the first COVID outbreak in Wuhan, China, in November 2019. She said there was a new “grim reality everywhere” of authoritarianism, though the “global movement for freedom is strong and defined.”
Assaf-Boustani said Taiwan was a “beacon of democracy” and this was why it had been chosen to host the Oslo Freedom Forum. “Some are not able to be here today because they are in prison” or prevented from leaving their country, she added, mentioning the case of singer and freedom activist Denise Ho (何韻詩) in Hong Kong.
“As a strong liberal democracy in a region with so many authoritarian regimes, Taiwan is a natural fit to be a capital of human rights and a beacon for others,” Assaf-Boustani said.
Tiananmen Square protest leader and General Secretary of Taiwan's Parliamentary Human Rights Commission Wu'er Kaixi (吾爾開希) said the Taiwan Strait situation had simplified into a simple choice of Taiwan or China. “It’s either, or,” he said. “Either you are for Taiwan or you are against it. The world has become simpler.”
Kaixi also spoke against appeasement and quoted former British Prime Minister and World War II leader Winston Churchill. “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.” Kaixi warned that this was the situation now.
He added that it was “downright stupid” to fall for the illusion that China would become a responsible stakeholder internationally, become a democratic nation because it was capitalist, or could be engaged in the hope it would change. “We can’t make the same mistake again.”
In the afternoon’s second session, singer and legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) said China had been, “Politically, economically, and culturally trying to infiltrate Taiwan for decades,” but that Taiwan had “passed laws to defend ourselves against disinformation and support technological tools against this disinformation.”
“With all these measures, we believe our democracy can be more resilient.” Lim added that Taiwan has an opportunity to become a reservoir for art and culture and information to engage and take on tyranny, wherever it is found.
Other speakers at the forum included Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine; Toufah Jallow, a Gambian anti-rape activist; Burmese/Myanmar democracy activist Wai Hnin Pwint Thon; the Chinese exile in Australia artist Badiucao (巴丢草), who spoke remotely; Chung Ching Kwong (鄺頌晴), the Hong Kong digital rights activist; and others. Kimberley Chen (陳芳語), the Taiwan-based Australian singer also spoke in favor of activism and performed two of her songs.
The Oslo Freedom Forum was launched in Norway in 2009 and gathers human rights and pro-democracy activists for lectures. Global conferences are organized by the New York-based non-profit Human Rights Foundation.
Oslo Freedom Forum information board. (Taiwan News, Jules Quartly photo)
Kimberley Chen performs. (Taiwan News, Jules Quartly photo)
Doodle wall caricatures at Oslo Freedom Forum. (Taiwan News, Jules Quartly photo)
(Taiwan News, Jules Quartly photo)