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Activists in Brussels protest against China's policies towards Uyghurs on Feb. 6, 2021. Photo credit: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

The youth wings of Norway's main political parties have signed a letter calling for the country to rescind its normalization agreement with China and stop free trade negotiations due to China's human rights violations.

The big picture: Amid growing global awareness that close economic ties with China can have a chilling effect on free speech, opposition to China's Uyghur genocide is gaining momentum in Norway, where some politicians are fearful of jeopardizing ties with Beijing.

Driving the news: In a letter dated Feb. 9, a coalition of four advocacy groups — the Norwegian Uyghur Committee, Hong Kong Committee in Norway, Norwegian Tibet Committee and the Norwegian Taiwan Friendship Association — enumerate Beijing's human rights violations in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet, and accuse the Norwegian government of compromising democratic values in order to negotiate a free trade agreement.

  • The letter's signatories include leaders from the youth wings of eight out of the nine political parties currently represented in Norway's parliament. Only the youth organization of the right-wing populist Progress Party did not sign.

What they're saying: "When we do not oppose dictatorships, we help to legitimize and strengthen them," the letter states.

  • "Never before in world history has a dictatorship had so much economic and political power as China has today. Through a free trade agreement, we are not only contributing to strengthening this dictatorship, but to further undermining Norwegian democracy and the Norwegian space for expression."

Background: China froze diplomatic ties with Norway in 2010, after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

  • In 2016, the two countries signed a normalization agreement to end the diplomatic freeze, issuing a joint statement in which the Norwegian government stated that it "attaches high importance to China's core interests and major concerns" and "will not support actions that undermine them."
  • With diplomatic ties restored, the two countries resumed free trade talks.
  • In September 2020, the Norwegian industry minister said he was hopeful that a free trade agreement with China could be signed with by the end of the year, though a deal has yet to materialize.

The Feb. 9 letter calls for the end of trade talks and for the 2016 normalization agreement to be canceled, stating that, "With this agreement, Norway renounces the right to criticize the Chinese authorities, and at the same time undermines the freedom of expression of Norwegian civil society."

  • “It is a question about our future, about the values we stand for," Adiljan Abdurihim, secretary of the non-profit Norwegian Uyghur Committee, one of the non-profit groups that organized the letter, told Axios. "What we are suggesting to the government is, it’s ok to have economic relations with China but it should be on Norway’s terms.”

Go deeper: The scope of forced labor in Xinjiang is bigger than we knew

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include more information about the Progress Party and to clarify the date of the letter.

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