HELSINKI—Sweden’s government summoned the Chinese ambassador in Stockholm to discuss his comments on Jan. 18 that compared Swedish media coverage of China to a lightweight boxer who “provokes a feud” with a heavyweight.
Chinese Ambassador Gui Congyou used the boxing metaphor while speaking with Swedish public broadcaster SVT. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Saturday called the envoy’s statement an “unacceptable threat.”
Linde said she has summoned him to discuss the issue on Tuesday. “Freedom of speech prevails” in Sweden, and “what China’s ambassador now does is very serious,” she said.
In his remarks to SVT, Gui said he believes Swedish journalists have interfered in China’s internal affairs with their reporting. He didn’t give specific examples, but characterized the relationship between his country and Swedish media are reminiscent of two boxers. He didn’t specify the allegations.
“It’s like a 48-kilogram lightweight boxer who provokes a feud with an 86-kilogram heavyweight boxer, who out of kindness and goodwill urges the (smaller) boxer to take care of himself,” Gui said.
Linde said she interpreted the ambassador’s comments as an attempt to muzzle the media in a nation that prizes freedom of speech and is perceived internationally as a strong human rights advocate.
“We have repeatedly stated from my side … to the Chinese Embassy and the ambassador, that freedom of expression is constitutionally protected (in Sweden) and that journalists have the right to carry out their work completely freely,” Linde told SVT.
Tensions between Beijing and Stockholm have been strained since 2015, when dissident Gui Minhai, a China-born Swedish citizen known for publishing candid books about Chinese political leaders, vanished in Thailand and later resurfaced in mainland China.
In December, China called off planned visits by two business delegations to Sweden in an apparent protest. The previous month, Stockholm awarded Gui Minhai a rights prize given to writers and publishers facing political persecution.