China cancels trade visit to Sweden over detained bookseller Gui Minhai's free speech prize

South China Morning Post Dipublikasikan 17.12, 10/12/2019
China cancels trade visit to Sweden over detained bookseller Gui Minhai's free speech prize

China has cancelled a trade visit to Stockholm as its threatened "bad consequences" start to emerge over a free speech literary prize awarded to detained bookseller Gui Minhai last month.

Gui's case has deepened an ongoing crisis in bilateral relations between Sweden and China. On Monday, Sweden's former ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt was indicted over a meeting arranged for the bookseller's daughter to discuss his possible release and Lindstedt now faces trial in Stockholm.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a trip to the country by a Chinese trade delegation scheduled for Tuesday was called off. Diplomatic sources confirmed to the South China Morning Post that it was cancelled because the Swedish culture minister presented the free speech award, given by Sweden's PEN International, to 55-year-old Gui, who is currently in detention in China.

Sweden's foreign ministry confirmed that the Chinese side postponed the trip in mid-November, according to a report by Swedish newspaper GOteborgs-Posten. It said Sweden's foreign ministry was trying to reschedule the meetings.

China's ambassador to Sweden Gui Congyou threatened "bad consequences" for the country after Minister for Culture and Democracy Amanda Lind presented the Tucholsky Prize to Gui - represented by an empty chair on stage - at a ceremony in Stockholm on November 15.

Gui Minhai has been detained in China since early 2018 on suspicion of leaking state secrets. Photo: Simon Song

Gui Minhai is a Chinese-born Swedish citizen and co-owner of a Hong Kong bookstore that sold titles deemed politically sensitive by Beijing. He has been detained in China since early 2018 on suspicion of leaking state secrets after being intercepted on a Beijing-bound train while he was being escorted by two Swedish diplomats.

Last week, ambassador Gui Congyou told GOteborgs-Posten that China would "restrict cultural exchanges and cooperation on the economy and trade" with Sweden.

He also threatened consequences for the city of Gothenburg, where some politicians have proposed cancelling its sister-city relationship with Shanghai.

Clashes between Sweden and China over human rights and the ongoing case of Gui Minhai have strained relations between the two countries in the past two years.

Lindstedt, Sweden's former ambassador to China, was recalled to Stockholm in February over her alleged mishandled attempt to mediate the Gui Minhai case.

Swedish prosecutors on Monday formally charged Lindstedt with "arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power". Lindstedt reportedly arranged a meeting between Gui's daughter, Angela Gui, and two men claiming to be Chinese businessmen in Stockholm, without informing the Swedish foreign ministry.

Sweden's former ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt faces trial in Stockholm. Photo: Swedish embassy

Since Chinese ambassador Gui Congyou threatened consequences for Sweden last month, at least three political parties in the country - the Left Party, the Christian Democrats and the Sweden Democrats - have called for him to be sent back to China.

BjOrn Jerden, head of the Asia programme at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, said China could still step back from imposing more sanctions on Sweden since Beijing had not openly repeated the ambassador's threats.

"The Swedish government has no interest in escalation. At the same time, Sweden has been clear that it will continue to press for the release of Gui Minhai and stand up for the freedom of opinion in Sweden," he said. "(But) as long as Beijing doesn't accept these red lines there's a risk of further friction."

Gui Congyou has been a vocal critic of his host nation's media coverage of China since he became the Chinese ambassador in Stockholm in August 2017. The Chinese embassy issued 57 statements critical of local press coverage of China between January 2018 and May this year, according to a report by the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

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