Thore Vestby is a business developer and has previously been local leader of Frogn Høyre. He served on the municipal council for a period from 1995 to 1999. During this period he was a driving force for nature-based sewage treatment in Nordre Frogn. He was also heavily involved in the reorganization of the municipality’s administration and the political committee structure that was implemented in January 1999. He retired from the municipal council in the following period, before being elected mayor of the municipal elections in 2003, a position he held for twelve years.
After retirement, Thore Vestby has been actively involved with China. He was co-founder of Ichi Fund, which is aiming at facilitating cooperation in education and culture among the Belt and Road countries.
1. You have been working in the IT industry for 30 years. What areas have you been working on? Did you write code as we do now? How was IT in the 1970s, I mean what were the most common work? When did you buy your first desktop and laptop, and what were the brand?
I started August 3., 1972 on a brand-new IBM/370, model 155, big as monster, water cooled, 512K CPU, punching cards, tape, disk as input, paper output. It had a panel with small lamps displaying the addresses that the program was at. When it stopped or looped, we wrote down the hexadecimal address and gave it to thee programmer. We now call it computing by foot. I started as an I/O operator (input/output), the lowest level. I have really learned computing from the roots, promoted to operator after 1 year or 2. Then more and more responsibility of the production, data bases, support, installations and customer care. Then sales and marketing and business development.
I build my first pc in 1989, a stationary, of parts that I bought from here and there. Worked fine for many years. I have never bought a lap top from my private money, always been provided by my employers. The first one was a Toshiba T1200. Price NOK 60 000~.
I understood and accepted all in this microchip business. But what really struck me out was when I opened Excel spreadsheet on the pc for the first time. How was it possible to do all these calculations and things so fast? I was really stunned.
2. In 2003, you moved to politics and became the mayor of Frogn, what was the motivation?
Good question. I got engaged over the years by the way the country was run and how the world was linked and unlinked. Actually, I got fed up by the fact that the central political system in Oslo thinks that they knew what was best for me and took their decisions based of their theories and ideology. I was in for the “subsidiary principle”: a decision should be taken at the lowest level of the concerned. I was profiled through sports and happy life in Drøbak and was asked to be the mayoral candidate at the election in 2003. Before that, I was member of the local council from 1995-99 and had leading positions in my local party. I left after one period to spend my time on organizing sports for youth, local, reginal and national, but was called back as the mayor candidate 4 years later. I could not say no to the challenge, left my well-paid job as Business Development Manager in digital high-speed printing and went for a win in the election.
3. We know the Chinese embassy visits Drøbak fishing festival every year, how did it start?
Haha, yes that is a good story. U know, Drøbak is a perfect place for Embassies to go for a light recreation. Nice, calm, fjord, friendly and easy,low shoulders. Through some random contacts by distinguished persons in our legendary yacht club Drøbak Båtforening, the Embassy was invited to a fishing trip on the fjord following eating (and good drinking) at the boat union’s remote harbor at a small island not far away. This fishing festival has been the case for more than 20 years now, at the last Saturday in April. This is not a diplomatic happening; everybody working at the Embassy with family and friends are invited. The boat union provides recreational boats in the needed number, and a chef and all necessary things for a great after-fishing-party are at the island. The mayor is included in this. The Ambassador(s) are so happy with this so a re-invitation to a dedicated reception in the Embassy in the autumn is now standard procedure. And they have agreed to, the former Ambassador Zhou and the charismatic leader of the boat union for 39 years, Tom Kristiansen, that this will continue “as long as there is water in the fjord”.
4. During your term as mayor at Drøbak, have you attended that festival together with Chinese embassy? Any stories that you still have in the memory? How did you think of this inter-activity with Chinese embassy?
Thore Vestby with formal Chinese ambassador Jun Zhao
Well firstly, I have the clear understanding that both parties like this very much. It is easy going, people are treated as the way they are, not their position. Same rules for all. What I remember most is from the festival with the Ambassador prior to Mr. Zhao, a leady, name forgotten, but very elegant and stylish with a great charisma. Before they enter the boats, a beer and an Akevitt-snaps are served while the boat union’s “Wave-band” are playing. Everybody is standing in a ring listening and small talking. Then the Lady Ambassador, who has just arrived Oslo and this position a few days ahead said load and clear: – Come and dance with me, Mayor.
Haha, dancing is not my favorite activity, but I had to do it, diplomatically impossible to refuse, of course. Actually, an honor. Great fun for everybody, me included and a good story afterwards.
5. You have been the vice president of Mayors for Peace, what is the goal of this organization and what it has been doing so far?
I am a still a vice president and happy to do this job for the acting Mayor in Drøbak. The goal is divided in two main tasks: 1. We, soon 8000 mayors from 163 countries on all continents, think the nuclear bombs is not a protection but a threat to our citizens. Therefore, we want to take them away, all of them. We suggest to put that money, $ 1 trillion (1 000 000 000 000) into the important work with UN’s 17 SDG’s, the Sustainable Development Goals. 2. We focus on development of safe and resilient cities, climate care and fight extremism of any kind.
7. When did you join Høyre? What idea do you like best from Høyre?
I joined the party in 1994. A statement I liked best at that time was: Forandre for å bevare; Change to conserve. You know, if you stand still, you are actually going backwards, relatively, because others develop. So, change in needed to keep the values. It is a never ending and constantly ongoing work.
8. What was your role as MP in Stortinget? What is your daily work there?
We have a system that counties get MP’s based on the election
result. My party and my county got 7. I was number 9 on the list. Then one ahead of me became a minister so then I jumped 8th. And the system is like when the elected members are on travel, holiday, hospital or others, the next on the list is called in. I was called in about 6-10 times a year and from 2 days to 6 weeks. The last 4 month another person on my counties list became a minister, so I got a permanent seat. All this means I was meeting in many committees, but mostly The committee for foreign affairs and defense. And lucky me; my favorite one.
10. You have been endorsing “One belt One road”, why do you think this project is contributing to the world and what Norway can benefit from this?
I have commented earlier of the global effect. For Norway especially, it is of crucial importance to be a part. The artic, fishery, energy, bio-economy, winter sports, tourism, clean, blue and green.
11. Could you give us a short introduction of Ichi Found? What project is ongoing right now?
Our name, Yizhi, comes from I Ching by Confucius meaning “I change, it changes”. We believe, my co-founder Liu Jian and I, that there is a big change going on, geopolitically. The decline of UK and USA, EU-problems, the rise of China and later India, will result in a new world order. And as China is opening up, the rest of the world will go into increased activities with China in the future. We want to give our small contribution to the change by bringing the young people form the BRI-countries together. Then they can experience and learn about the different culture, attitudes, habits, system etc. through events and such as Norway Cup, startup events, entrepreneurship competition and similar. In other words, we make our own arenas for this or we bring in students to other arenas in cooperation with others. And it works well. We believe there is a common ground and we think it is more preferably to build on that than the focusing on the differences.
There is a very important reason why we bring the young generation together, to experience culture exchanges in China and Norway. Because we would like their parents, could also have a chance to take a look in China by themselves. To find out what is happening in China right now. Because their parents mostly are top peoples in Norway from all kinds of industries. It is important that not only businessmen go to China to make business. Teenagers and their parents are also crucial to the relations between China and the rest of the world. What they see and what they experienced will help more people getting to know China, to understand, to cooperate.
12. In 2016, China and Norway normalized ties in 2016, what do you know about the stories behind it?
During the last two years of the freezing period, I happen to meet Ambassador Zhao many times, so also Foreign Minister Brende. They both urged me and Ichi Fund to do as much people to people activities as possible. We were of course very much inspired by this and so we did.
13. Høyre have been winning for 2 continuous election now, and people think they will win the next one as well. Why some people stopped supporting AP? Why do you think people are still voting for Høyre? Do you think Erna will be the PM for the next election as well?
Yes, good job done by Erna and others. The polls go up and down depending on actual political cases and situation. These days Høyre is dropping a little and Ap is gaining. That will change. I think she will keep her position, one way or the other. She is still the best candidate for the position and is good in campaigning.
AP and høyre are similar in many ways. If right now AP is leading the country, you and me, and many other people will not be able to feel difference. There are some differences of course, for example AP support state owned facilities such as schools, senior care centers, while Høyre is more open to private. When I was the mayor of Drøbak, the local AP politician asked me to support state owned senior center if we Høyre want their support on other issues, and I said sure, no problem.
The interesting thing with Rødt. This small party has gained a lot more support for the last few years. The party has now become a watch dog for this country. They monitor each party in the parliament, and they are ready to object to things that they think are wrong.
13. How do you think the AP? Why do you think they are falling down? Who do you think should be responsible for?
I think they in the long run they lose support because of not having any clear policy, no vision, no project, no solution. They just kick on the government whatever they do. I do not find that constructive at all, kind of pathetic.
14. KrF has been on the spot light recently, finally it ended up Hareide resigning and the party staying together with Høyre. What do you think of KrF and Hareide?
KrF is very divided now. You all know that they had an internal voting. The party chose to stay with Høyre, but with only 1 more vote. So this party is really divided. I think they will lose more votes in the next election.
He had a plan, did not got enough support and he has taken the relevant consequences. Having said that, the man-in the-street are fed up with the small parties because the get enormous power by being the last votes needed for the government to be in position. They bargain hard on that. But I am afraid they will lose out of Parliament, especially the splitted Krf, maybe Venstre too. Btw, the latter have been splitted 2 times over the last decades and there is definitely not blowing a liberal wind over Europe these days.
16. What can Norway learn from China and vice versa?
Respect, long term thinking, pragmatism, the value of a win-win situation. I will be careful of promoting our values, but some of our daily life habits are good.
China and Norway are very similar in a way. Norway has oil, China has factories. They were both very poor before, and they became rich afterward.
Back to 1950s, Norway has food ration coupons, it was quite similar in China during the planned economy decades, before the reforming and opening-up.
17. Some Norwegian still consider China as a threat when they see there are increasing business activities between two countries. Strategically speaking, Norway and China are far away from each other. Norway and China have no history problems or present conflict, but why Norway is afraid of being more involved with China?
It is quite normal to be afraid of the unknown and that the situation; we do not know China. I can tell that after 15 visits and 150 days the last two years all over China, I am starting to get some understanding. So, this takes time. The best we can do in Norway is to realize that, realize the fact that China is far away, is very different but gives an ocean of possibilities.
And let me add, the best the west can do in this tense situation right now is that not to fundament the opinion and statements of our own narratives. The west must take into consideration the Chinese narrative before “shooting”. And there is one hang up in our position: the strong link to USA. After WW2, Norway and western Europe have been so strongly influenced by American culture, trends, life
style, technology and security. Now we see that this leads to a not sustainable future, – and that is no future. I believe we will see dramatic things happening in the near future as countries try t loosen their ties and wants to break out.
18 What do you think about PST warning against Huawei?
This has become a case in the big trade war. The fact is that US has been spying on EU for years. Google, Apple, have been part of this. But so far Huawei not. So this is a matter of trust and in the west the trust is on the US side until now, but that will shrink. I think it will be wise by the western countries to buy from both side. But what I am sure about; the Americans has fabricated this at a convenient time just to protect their own business. The company which claimed that China is behind the hack of Norwegian company Visma is acutally financially supported by CIA.
Norway does not have its own diplomatic strategy, it just follows USA.
The press says that Huawei has link to Chinese government, but in Norway, the Norwegian government is the biggest shareholder of Telenor.
So what is the problem to have link with government?
The western media has its own narrative of China, and sometimes they are not based on fact.
The world is better with “U.S. vs. China vs. Russia” leading ahead, other than only “U.S. vs. Russia”. Bring the others into the game, it might come with more possibilities, make things happen. For example, no matter what has Trump done after he became the president of America, he speeded up things.
China is now making changes, also from my point of view, China is the key to the relations between Koreans. People are afraid of China to become the superpower, but in fact, China is just making things happened instead of doing nothing.
I think why the westerns think China is a big concern is that they don’t know about China. The media should be a bridge between the east and west. But what you know about China from the media, depends on who and how they write about China. There should be a platform that people write true things about China.
19 Many western media are accusing China of violating human right, what is your view?
We always talk about human rights with the western narrative. The reason behind this, first, in the west, “individuals” is in the first place. Everything starts from small to big. But, in China, “nation” is in the first place. And everything comes from big to small. That is why when we talk about human rights, the west and China have a very different understanding.
People are talking about Xinjiang, I would say, between the 1970s to 1980s, the same things happened everywhere in Europe. Even nowadays, for example in Norway, Norwegian is doing the same thing! They use the same method to deal with refugees and immigrants. They send immigrants far away from the city, teach them, how to become a Norwegian. You have to learn the language and the culture, the laws before you get into society. Otherwise, Norway will send them home.
Talking about freedom and democracy, those things are very expensive to get. The Chinese government paid so much effort to keep the “nation” and people stable. And even better, Chinese are doing things in an efficient and effective way.
Personally, I do not like extremism. For example, if we talk about religion, we have Christian and Islam the most. In Islam, if you don’t follow my mind, if you don’t agree with me, then you’re not my friend and we are enemies.
I do not like this, it just like the relations between the countries. All the nations should cooperate instead of caring too much about friends and enemies. Everything should be done in the peaceful way. So that changes could happen.