Sweden Readies for Diplomatic Crisis With China Over Free Press

Niclas Rolander

(Bloomberg) -- Sweden’s government has demanded a meeting with the ambassador from China after he lambasted Swedish media.

Ambassador Gui Congyou caused a diplomatic furore over the weekend after giving an interview to Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT, in which he said that some local media representatives “have a habit of criticizing, accusing and smearing China.” He then went on to compare the relationship between Swedish media and China to one in which “a 48kg weight boxer keeps challenging an 86kg weight boxer to a fight.”

Three parties in Sweden’s parliament have now called for Gui Congyou to be thrown out of the Nordic country, adding to tensions ahead of a meeting scheduled to take place with the ambassador at the foreign ministry in Stockholm on Tuesday.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, has already ruled out the option of expelling Gui Congyou. But she also made clear Sweden won’t accept veiled threats from China. Relations between the two countries have soured recently over jailed Chinese-born Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, who was honored last year by the Swedish chapter of PEN International with its annual Tucholsky Award.

Gui Minhai, who has written several books that are critical of China’s leadership, has been detained since late 2015 by Chinese authorities, who accuse him of crimes including “operating an illegal business.” Gui Congyou says Minhai is a “lie-fabricator” who “committed serious offenses in both China and Sweden.” He also said Swedish media “is full of lies” about the case and that the Tucholsky Award, which was handed out by Sweden’s minister of culture, would result in Chinese “countermeasures.”

The spat comes amid a more assertive diplomatic stance from China, which dominates global export markets and is one of Sweden’s most important trade partners. In neighboring Norway, the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 to Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo led to a deep-freeze of diplomatic relations that lasted more than half a decade and hurt trade. In 2018, Sweden exported goods and services to China worth 67 billion kronor ($7 billion), making it the Nordic country’s eighth-largest export market.

Gui Congyou, who was appointed ambassador to Sweden in 2017, has repeatedly angered lawmakers in the country with his remarks over the years. Commenting on Swedish media’s coverage of Gui Minhai, Gui Congyou in December cited a Chinese proverb: “We treat our friends with fine wine, but we have shotguns for our enemies.”

The ambassador’s latest remarks prompted the nationalist Sweden Democrats as well as the Christian Democrats and the Left Party to demand that he be thrown out.

To contact the reporter on this story: Niclas Rolander in Stockholm at nrolander@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tasneem Hanfi Brögger at tbrogger@bloomberg.net

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