This year marks the 70th anniversary of China’s diplomatic relationship with scores of countries, including Sweden. However, unlike past years, no congratulatory messages were exchanged between China and the Nordic country.
Shortly after the Chinese Communist Party took over China and established the People’s Republic of China in 1949, it was hungry for recognition in the international community. Sweden became the first Western country to enter into a diplomatic relationship with the Chinese regime on May 9, 1950.
China’s first ambassador to Sweden was Geng Biao. He later hired a young Xi Jinping as his assistant while Geng served as Secretary-General in the Central Military Commission in the late 1970s.
However, ties between the two countries have nosedived over recent years.
In particular, the case of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai caused an uproar. He was one of five shareholders in the Hong Kong-based Causeway Bay Books, a publisher of books that detailed scandals about the Chinese ruling elite. Gui was secretly abducted from his holiday home in Thailand and transferred to mainland China for trial in 2015 for a so-called traffic accident. Three years later, he was arrested again on charges of “providing intelligence” overseas. In February this year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In 2019, Swedish PEN, a literary organization, bestowed its annual Tucholsky Award, a prize for writers living under threat or in exile, upon Gui, which was met with fierce objection from the Chinese Embassy in Sweden.
China’s ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, expressed his anger in an interview with a Swedish public radio station: “We treat our friends with fine wine, but for our enemies we have shotguns.” He also noted that China would “surely take countermeasures” if Amanda Lind, the Minister for Culture and Democracy of Sweden, were to attend the award ceremony.
Ironically, Sweden became the first country in Europe to close all its Confucius Institutes and classrooms in April 2020. Confucius Institutes are run by an agency of the Chinese regime headquartered in Beijing. They are branded as educational and cultural programs, but have drawn increasing scrutiny worldwide over their role in spreading Beijing’s propaganda and agenda, while suppressing free speech on school campuses.
Sweden is not the only country where relations with China have gotten frosty.
On Jan. 27, Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a cartoon of the Chinese flag, with virus-like figures in place of the symbolic yellow stars. In response, the Chinese ambassador to Denmark demanded an apology from the agency. The next day, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen reminded China that “we have freedom of expression in Denmark—also to draw.”