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Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström at the China Forum in Stockholm


Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström at Stockholm China Forum, Stockholm, 29 May 2024.

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Good morning everyone,

Thank you for the introduction, Bonnie,

It is a true pleasure for me to be here today and an honour to open the 29ᵗʰ Stockholm China Forum. 
It is the first time I attend, but I’ve heard from many - including my Prime Minister who attended a year ago - that it is an excellent platform for dialogue about China’s role in the world. This should come as no surprise as you, distinguished participants, are some of the world’s foremost China analysts and policymakers.

The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs is proud to co-host this transatlantic discussion on China. It has become increasingly relevant over time, reflecting the growing importance of China as a global actor. I want to extend my thanks to the German Marshall Fund for the excellent long-term partnership and all your hard work.

We meet here in Stockholm at a time marked by increasing geopolitical and geoeconomic tensions, and at a time marked by war both in the Middle East and in Europe.

Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine presents the greatest violation of the rules-based international order in decades. In response, European and transatlantic resolve have been galvanised. All UN member states have a responsibility to defend the UN Charter and its foundational principles of territorial integrity and peaceful conflict resolution. We encourage all 
states - including China - to use the tools at their disposal to bring an end to Russia’s aggression.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was an irreversible turning point, for Swedish, European and global security. Sweden’s membership of NATO is a direct result of this illegal war of aggression. Becoming a member of NATO is an epoch-making event for our country. It entails a profound change in Sweden’s foreign and security policy. Sweden will continue to promote the 
fundamental values of our foreign and security policy: safeguard the rules-based world order, the European security order, democracy, freedom, human rights and gender equality.
These values also underpin our strong commitment to a unified and robust China policy in the EU. Along with close transatlantic cooperation, the EU remains the cornerstone of Sweden’s China policy.

In response to growing tensions and heightened risks, we need to strengthen and deepen our partnerships. The transatlantic link is key for European security and prosperity and will undoubtedly remain so.

As the interconnections between Euro-Atlantic security and security in the Indo-Pacific multiply, we strive to enhance our exchanges with partners in the Indo-Pacific. A conflict in the Indo-Pacific, including any attempts to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, would have far-reaching consequences also for Sweden and Europe. In other words, paying close attention to the security situation in the Indo- Pacific is in our national interest.
Additionally, if international law is called into question in one part of the world, that concerns all of us. This is of course also true when it comes to human rights. That is why we will continue to raise human rights issues publicly, including our concerns about the situation for human rights in China.

The Swedish Government recognises the need for both broader and deeper China expertise to manage both challenges and opportunities emanating from China’s growing influence.

Broader – because China’s growing influence truly affects us in almost all areas. From trade and investments to climate, new technologies, cyber, energy, raw materials, and security. The Chinese party-state is increasingly assertive in advancing its interests, domestically and globally. We 
therefore also need deeper knowledge of China, including more people with good language skills.

China’s scientific and technological successes are tangible and impressive, and I have a great deal of respect for many of China’s accomplishments.
With China being an integrated part of the global economy and an innovation and technology leader, we need more – not less – meaningful exchanges with China. We want China to take on a larger role and more responsibility for addressing global problems such as climate change, biodiversity, health 
and disarmament. Sweden aims for more dialogue with China, when it is in line with our interests.

It is true that geopolitics today are characterised by increasing political, economic and military rivarly. But it is also – as I’m sure the discussions today will illustrate – more nuanced. China’s trade with both the EU and the US remains substantial, though it may be decreasing in certain 
sensitive sectors. Mutual dependence remains the overarching trend.
Sweden, like other EU member states, are now formulating our open, but firm, approach to economic security. De-risking means increasing our awareness of vulnerabilities and reducing excessive dependencies that may impact our economic security.
It is crucial that we do so without curtailing the freedoms and free trade which remain key to our competitiveness and prosperity.

It is crucial to cultivate our strengths: a tradition of international trade, openness, curiosity and innovation. While at the same time defending our values, interests and security. And it’s been said many times: de-risking does not mean disengagement.

As my Prime Minister noted at this Forum last year: how China chooses to face its economic, geopolitical and demographic challenges in the coming years will not only shape China’s future. The consequences of China’s development will have a defining importance for the rest of the world. 
Sweden will do its part to try to shape the future in ways consistent with respect for territorial integrity, individual freedoms, and international law.
Deepening our exchanges with China, and our knowledge about China in partnership with other countries, are priorities for the Swedish Government. These correspond directly to the mission of the Stockholm China Forum.
Partnerships require good understanding of each other’s perspectives.
I believe that your valuable contributions will help promote frank and respectful dialogue on how to best navigate these difficult times, sharing insights and perhaps opening up some common ground.

Thank you for your attention and participation here in Stockholm.