COPENHAGEN—An investigative journalist highlighted the severity of the Chinese regime’s interference into Denmark when he recently spoke about his probe into alleged Beijing pressure to prevent Shen Yun Performing Arts from performing in the small European nation.
Thomas Foght, an investigative journalist with Radio24syv, started investigating into the pressure the traditional Chinese dance and music company was facing after developing an interest in Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence on Denmark and Danish authorities.
At the time, he was also investigating into how Beijing was putting pressure on officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding issues relating to the inquiry of Danish authorities’ treatment of Tibetan activists during two separate Chinese official visits in 2012 and 2013.
“I was curious to see whether there were some other cases of pressuring and I was curious to see how the Danish authorities reacted to it,” Foght said.
“I think there are some interesting clashes between Denmark and China. I mean Denmark is a democracy. We pay a lot of attention to our fundamental rights and then we have to work together [with a country] who’s a dictatorship and do not have freedom of speech, or freedom of religion, and these fundamental rights. So how does Denmark pay attention to those rights when they have to cooperate with China, who doesn’t have the same perspective on life and on rights, and democracy?” he added.
Shen Yun seeks to revive 5,000 years of Chinese culture through the performing arts, according to the company’s website. Its performances include pieces that portray contemporary China, including the ongoing persecution of Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) and spirituality in the culture—topics which are considered taboo by the atheist regime.
Since 2007, the New York-based company has sought to perform at the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen but have been repeatedly rejected on the grounds that the company’s artistic level did not meet the theater’s demands. These rejections were made in spite of Shen Yun selling out shows annually at renowned theaters around the world, including the Lincoln Center in New York and at the London Coliseum.
In 2017, local organizers of Shen Yun wrote a letter to Danish authorities, appealing for the company to be allowed to perform at the Royal Danish Theater, but did not have any success.
Through Foght’s investigation, published in a 2018 article, he uncovered evidence to show that the CCP had placed pressure on the theater to not lease its venue to Shen Yun.
“It showed for the first time that the Chinese Embassy and delegation was actually pressuring the theater in not letting them book these facilities,” Foght said during his speech at the Danish Parliament on April 4.
According to emails obtained by Foght, when Denmark’s Ministry of Culture requested a comment from the Royal Danish Theater, one of its employees revealed to another staff member that he or she had met with the Chinese Embassy in August.
“They [embassy] ended the meeting by asking if we had a dialogue with Shen Yun, and requested that we shouldn’t allow them to rent our facilities,” the email stated.
“Since 2007 until 2017, the only reason why the theater was rejecting Shen Yun was because of the artistic level, but I think this gave a new dimension to the story because now we could suddenly prove that there was a pressure from China towards the theater,” Foght said.
Theater director Morten Hesseldahl and culture minister Mette Bock subsequently denied the accusation and said they were not aware of any pressure from the Chinese Embassy.
Foght said this case “puts light on why it was so difficult for Shen Yun to have access to the Royal Theater over ten years.”
“I think the politicians were quite shocked and surprised when they saw this. Many people said it was completely inappropriate that the Chinese Embassy was trying to influence the theater in this decision,” he added.
Benny Brix, a local Shen Yun Performing Arts organizer in Denmark, said the Royal Danish Theater was not the only theater in Denmark that had faced such pressure.
“In 2016, China tried to stop a performance in Aarhus. So it’s continually this kind of interference. It was not just 2007, it was during all the years,” Brix said, adding that the Aarhus Concert Hall resisted the pressure and the performances went ahead successfully.
CCP Faces Backlash
Foght’s article received attention from prominent figures in Denmark, who condemned the Chinese regime for what they perceive as its interference in Danish affairs.
At the time, Soren Espersen, chair of the foreign policy committee in the Danish parliament, told Danish newspaper Berlingske in an interview that the Chinese Embassy’s actions were “chauvinistic.”
“Why would they get to decide who gets to be on our stage, who gets to perform?” he said.
Similarly, Liberal Party politician Michael Aastrup Jensen told U.S.-based Chinese language broadcaster, New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD) that the Danish government should investigate such interference.
“We should actually try to preserve the Danish way of life and Danish political system, which is we have no censorship, that we are okay with every position, that everyone has the freedom of speech,” he said.
Similar Pressure in Spain
Like Denmark, the CCP has also allegedly placed pressure on other theaters and government officials to prevent Shen Yun from performing. This year in Spain, just weeks before the scheduled performances, the Royal Theater in Madrid canceled the shows due to “technical difficulties.” But an undercover investigation revealed that the CCP had a role in the cancelation.
The U.S. branch of the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG), a non-profit organization that investigates human-rights abuses perpetrated against Falun Gong adherents, said it decided to conduct an investigation into the cancellation after seeing media reports about possible Chinese Embassy interference to pressure the theater into canceling the show.
As part of its undercover investigation, on Jan. 22, WOIPFG made a phone call to the Chinese Embassy, posing as a high-level Chinese government official. The person who took the call identified himself as the Chinese Ambassador to Spain, Lü Fan, according to a press release issued by WOIPFG. The organization released an audio recording of the phone call on its website on Jan. 28.
“The investigation confirmed that the cancellation of the theater’s contract with the Shen Yun organizers was entirely the result of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) interferences,” WOIPFG said in its statement.
“Lü Fan personally put pressure on the theater to cancel the contract with Shen Yun Performing Arts. By using the CCP’s control of the large Chinese market as an enticement, Lü Fan and the theater’s director jointly planned to cancel the Shen Yun performances under the pretext of technical difficulties.”
With additional reporting by The Epoch Times reporters Wendy Huang and Annie Wu.