China and Sweden are not getting on. Whilst hostility continues to escalate, the two countries are wrapped up in a diplomatic disagreement.
It began with the removal of Chinese tourists from a hostel in Stockholm. According to the hostel management, a man and his parents had arrived almost a whole day early, on the 2nd of September. They allegedly showed up in the middle of the night and wished to be allowed to camp in the hotel lobby until their rooms were available. That would be several hours later, the next day.
After denying their request, the hotel staff asked the tourists to leave, but they refused. Eventually, the Swedish police were involved, and the tourists were forcibly removed.
Part of the incident was filmed. The video shows the Chinese man shouting “this is killing”, and exaggeratedly falling over. His mother is also seen in the video, howling and shrieking. His father is laying on the floor. The man is said to have insisted that his father was very sick, and needed help.
The video went viral once it was posted in Chinese social media. The response was mixed, with many commenting that the police were being harsh. Others commented that the tourists behaved in an overly dramatic way.
Nothing out of the ordinary
Chief Prosecutor Mats Ericsson concluded that there would be no investigation. He saw nothing out of the ordinary in the way the police handled the situation.
As a result of the incident, the Chinese Embassy issued a safety alert to potential Chinese visitors to Sweden.
A few weeks later, on 21st September, things between Sweden and China became heated once again. SVT, the Swedish national broadcaster, aired the satirical entertainment show Swedish News.
A segment of the show, hosted by Jesper Rönndahl, included a description of the incident with the Chinese tourists. As part of the commentary, Rönndahl brought up the plight of Gui Minhai, the Chinese-born Swedish writer and publisher currently imprisoned in China.
However, it was the final two minutes of the show, that caused the most friction. A satirical video clip, dubbed in Mandarin, was framed as tourist advice for Chinese visitors to Sweden. It included lines such as "If you see a person walking their dog on the street, this does not mean they have just brought their lunch”.
The video was uploaded by SVT to Youku, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube. It subsequently went viral, just as the earlier video had.
Reactions were much stronger this time, with many angry posts appearing on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. The Chinese Embassy in Sweden made a statement about the TV program. Foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said, "[This program] amounts to a gross insult and vicious attack on China and the Chinese people”.
“We reserve the right to pursue further consequences”, he concluded.
A week later, Rönndahl made an apology on air during another episode of Swedish News. Through his apology, he remained critical of the Chinese government, directing his apology to the regular people of China who may have been upset by the video.
The Chinese embassy in Sweden responded to the apology, commenting that “these ‘apologies’ have no seriousness or sincerity at all”.
Rönndahl went on to say that “China has, for a long time, stepped up their rhetoric against Sweden”. He pointed out that, according to a report from the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), Sweden is the target of “a test to see how the Swedish authorities react”. The report, which documents China's interest in Sweden, suggests that the goal for China is to secure a public apology from Sweden.
Video of Gui Minhau
The TV program also showed a video clip of Gui Minahi. Minhai is seen making what many believe is a forced confession, stating that he is in prison of his own free will.
Jojje Olsson is a Swedish reporter based in Taiwan since he was blacklisted in China. He believes that is primarily the situation with Minhai that has given rise to the criticism, verbal attacks and threats against SVT and the Swedish Government following the publication of the satirical video.
“The reaction would not have been as strong if Gui Minhai was not lying sorely [provoking] in the background”, Olsson said in an interview with Journalisten.
A show of power
Olsson pointed out that the Swedish Authorities have continued to say that Minhai must be released, and that this irritates China. The entire spectacle “is a clear-cut power play”.
In 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Chinese human rights activist Lui Xiaobo. He was represented at the ceremony by an empty chair, as he could not attend due to his being imprisoned in China. Following this, the Chinese government announced a boycott against Norway.
Sweden’s economic relation to China could also be at risk. In the first half of 2018, Swedish exports to China exceeded 34 billion SEK. In December 2017, the Chinese company Geely became the biggest owners of Volvo. Sweden's biggest cinema group, SF Bio, is also Chinese-owned.
Olsson thinks Sweden would have a stronger voice against China if it joined forces with other countries. “The EU is, amongst other things, founded to give small countries a stronger voice together. Sweden should take advantage of that”.
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