Sweden Should Press China to Release Swedish Book Publisher

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Protesters stick photos of Gui Minhai, left, and other missing booksellers outside the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong on January 3, 2016.
© 2016 Vincent Yu/AP Images

This week marks the sixth anniversary since Chinese authorities abducted Gui Minhai, a Swedish book publisher, from his home in Thailand in 2015. After enduring a forced confession on state media and a sham trial, Gui was briefly freed in 2017, before being rearrested. In 2020, a court handed down a 10-year sentence on questionable charges, and the authorities have provided no information on his whereabouts ever since, forcibly disappearing him. He is feared to be in poor health.

Beijing’s recent release of two US citizens who had been arbitrarily prohibited from leaving China, and two Canadians held as diplomatic hostages in exchange for an indicted Huawei executive, is both very welcome news and a cause for profound concern. It confirms Beijing’s willingness to use human beings as pawns, and reminds us of those who remain wrongfully detained, like Gui Minhai.

Sweden’s efforts to free Gui appear tepid. It has not launched a major public effort to secure his release, and if it has done so in private, those efforts are evidently not working. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has instead become embroiled in other diplomatic issues with China, including over a Chinese ambassador in Stockholm, and Sweden’s unsuccessful prosecution of its former ambassador to China for her mishandling of Gui’s case. 

In January, the Swedish Parliament called for a government-appointed commission to investigate cases of Swedes arbitrarily detained abroad and report by the end of March 2022. But the government has recently increased confidentiality surrounding the commission’s work, which could conveniently shield the government from further embarrassment.

Covid-19 may well have put a pall on some diplomatic interactions. But throughout the pandemic, the European Parliament and European Union called consistently for Gui’s release, placing human rights concerns closer to the center of EU-China relations.

Standard diplomatic interventions to free citizens wrongfully detained by the Chinese government have largely proven ineffective. The Swedish government should make Gui Minhai’s release a priority in its relations with China. Stockholm should also be working with its European allies, who have been increasingly willing to criticize Beijing, to press harder for his freedom.

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