In the last couple of days, a Chinese family getting evicted from a Stockholm hotel by Swedish police have made headlines around the world a created a diplomatic row between the two countries. (See this link for videos and a detailed explanation.)
After the incident, Chinese authorities immediately contacted their Swedish counterpart to demand an apology, compensation for the family and punishment for the involved police officers.
The Swedish top prosecutor at an early stage decided to cancel the investigation against the police patrol, as there was no indication that they had been acting wrongfully. Indeed, as the videos are showing, no violence were being used, and the family were let off at a metro station which is a common place for the police to bring people that are disturbing social order in the city centre.
Nevertheless, the Chinese authorities have kept demanding apology, compensation and punishment. The Chinese embassy in Stockholm have been most vocal with those demands.
After receiving the newspaper Aftonbladet for an interview during the weekend, the ambassador also received the newspaper Expressen for an interview which was published on the embassy website just a few hours ago.
Please see the interview in full below. It’s an excellent example of the Chinese authorities trying to impose its own will on the law and justice system of a foreign country, never mind the lies and poor excuses being made in the process:
Ambassador Gui said, when I was interviewed by your colleague from the Aftonbladet yesterday, I have said all there is to be said about the incident. Now that you requested an interview with me, I have to agree to take it. First, I would like to give you an update. This morning, the police chief of the district where the brutal treatment of three Chinese tourists by Swedish police happened met with my colleagues. He confirmed to my colleagues that the three Chinese tourists did not break any Swedish law. He also said what was done by the Swedish police did not break the law either. We cannot understand such statement from the Swedish police. First, the brutal treatment of the three Chinese tourists threatened and endangered their life, safety and dignity. Does the Swedish law not respect human rights and dignity? Given that the police are there to enforce the law on behalf of the government, does the Swedish government not respect human rights and dignity either? Second, if foreign police treat Swedish tourists the same way, how will the Swedish government react? How will you react? Will the Swedish government agree with and accept it? Will the Swedish people agree with and accept it? Third, as far as we know, a similar incident happened in the southern Swedish city Borås in November 2011. The victim in that incident was a Swedish citizen, and eventually the police officer were convicted of negligence. I hope you will publish what I said to your readers.
Q: This incident took place on 2 September. Why did it take the Chinese Government two weeks to react so strongly?
Gui Congyou: We received a verbal report from the victims on 2 September. Because of technical reasons, it was on 5 September that we received a written account of the incident and contacted the hotel to inquire on the incident. On 5 September, after thoroughly understanding what happened, we informed the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and made serious representations. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also lodged serious representations to the Swedish ambassador to China in Beijing. We expected the Swedish police to promptly respond to the three Chinese tourists’ requests for a thorough investigation, apology, punishment of the involved police officers and compensation. However, nearly two weeks had passed and there was not a single word of reply from the Swedish side. It is not consistent with international practice. The three Chinese tourists were physically and mentally harmed, and they wanted the Swedish side to respond to their legitimate requests promptly. So they had to bring the incident to the media.
Q: Did you communicate with the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and police?
Gui Congyou: As I said, after thoroughly acquiring relevant information from all sides, I immediately met with relevant senior officials from the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Like I stressed yesterday in the interview with Aftonbladet, the life, safety and dignity of each and every Chinese citizen is precious to the Chinese Government and Embassy. From the perspective of consular protection, the incident was by no means a small issue. We hope the Swedish side would take the issue very seriously and give due reply promptly to the requests of the three Chinese victims.
When asked about the details regarding the dispute between the three Chinese tourists and the hotel, Ambassador Gui said, I have answered what you asked in my interview with Aftonbladet yesterday. Here is a full text of the interview, please refer to it.
Q: The Swedish prosecutors concluded that the police did not break the law.
Gui Congyou: In that case, I cannot but ask a question. The three tourists, including two elders, one of whom was ill and on medication, were cast at a graveyard in a desolate place after being forcefully removed from the hotel by the police. It was late at night and below 10°C, and their safety was threatened and dignity harmed. Does the Swedish Police Law allow this? Is the Swedish Police Law so inhumane and immoral? Does the Swedish law disrespect basic human rights to such an extent? !
Q: I worked in the US and China, and I know it is never a good idea to argue with local police. I have seen the video, where Mr. Zeng was very emotional and yelled “This is killing”. If people argue with police in the US, they may be arrested immediately. Would it have been a better choice for the police to arrest the Chinese tourists?
Gui Congyou: The Swedish police have confirmed that the three Chinese tourists did not break the law and the police had no right to arrest them. Of course, if they broke the law, the police should handle the case according to law. In fact, the three Chinese tourists came to Stockholm from thousands of miles away and just arrived very late at night in a place where they knew no one. Who could they turn to for help? They could’ve turned to the Embassy for help, but unfortunately they did not. If the Swedish police did not want to help them, the best choice is to contact the Embassy, but they did not do so either. Even if there were flaws or inappropriate behaviors by the Chinese tourists, that does not justify the Swedish police’s brutal treatment to them. Aren’t we supposed to respect human rights?! Aren’t we suppose to advocate human rights?!
Q: The police followed the routine. They had the right to move them away from the hotel. The tourists were put in a place with a subway station. It is nothing special and happens all the time.
Gui Congyou: As I said, the three Chinese tourists traveled thousands of miles and just arrived in Stockholm very late at night, and they knew no one here. Though there was a subway station near the place they were forcefully taken to by the Swedish police, the first thing they saw was a graveyard. How were they supposed to feel when the first thing that reached their eyes was a graveyard after enduring such horrible treatment? Even if they could find the subway station, did the subway operate so late at night? Why did the Swedish police not take them to somewhere safe? As far as I know, in the winter of Stockholm, when someone drunk lies on the street,the police is obligated to take them to somewhere warm, so that they will not get injured or die because of the freezing temperature. If the police could do that, why couldn’t they be more humane and moral with the three Chinese tourists? Let alone that the Chinese tourists were completely defenseless and could in no way constitute a threat to the police. Were the Swedish police so cruel and apathetic?
Q: We all saw the video, where Mr. Zeng lied in front of the police and shouted “This is killing”. Are there any parts wrong about his behavior?
Gui Congyou: They were forcefully expelled from the hotel. His father, almost 70 years old and ill, lied on the ground half-unconscious, and his mother was collapsing on the ground calling out for help. The family came to Sweden with great interest only to find themselves in such despair and helplessness, upon arrival in Stockholm. In such a state, how is he supposed to react? I was shown the video by the Aftonbladet journalist yesterday. But why didn’t you pay attention to the part of the video where his father lied on the ground half-unconscious?! Why didn’t you broadcast that part?
Q: Mr. Zeng said they were beaten and abused by the Swedish police, but the prosecutors concluded that the accusation had no ground and the police did nothing wrong. How do you comment on that?
Gui Congyou: I have answered this question at the beginning. Do I need to repeat it?
Q: No. Could you tell us more about the family? Where are they from in China? What were their plans in Sweden and where did they go after leaving Sweden?
Gui Congyou: For their privacy, I cannot give you information about the family without their permission. After being brutally treated by the police, they took a train back to downtown Stockholm with the help of a kind passer-by. Then they reported to the police and the Embassy. Eventually they abandoned the travel plan in Sweden and left the country with fear and anger, and continued the rest of the trip.
Q: At around 10 o’clock on 2 September, a twitter account “Swedenpolicetorturechineseelders” was registered and it tweeted pictures of the incident. Back then very few people knew about the incident. Was the account opened by Embassy staff ?
Gui Congyou: As I said, the Embassy received the verbal report of the incident from Mr. Zeng around 6 am on 2 September. We did not receive his detailed written report and pictures until the morning of 5 September.
Q: So the Embassy has nothing to do with the Twitter account?
Gui Congyou: I think I have made myself very clear.
Q: Mr. Ambassador, I believe you also have seen the huge reaction from China, especially its social media like Weibo. Are you surprised?
Gui Congyou: We are living in an age of “wemedia”, we all need to adjust to this reality.
Q: Some people say that this incident was essentially a result of cultural conflict or misunderstanding, or language barriers. It happens all over the world. Why does the Chinese Government regard it as a big deal?
Gui Congyou: Don’t you think this is a big deal? ! In the middle of the night and when the temperature was below 10℃, the Chinese tourists who traveled from far with high expectations had not only their journey ruined but their life endangered and dignity violated. Isn’t that a big deal? As I stressed to the journalist from Aftonbladet yesterday, there are nearly 1.4 billion people in China, and that the life, safety and dignity of each and every one of them is precious to the Communist Party of China and the Chinese Government. To protect the life, safety and dignity of every Chinese citizen traveling overseas is the duty of all Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.
Q: I once worked in China. If the Chinese police ask me to do something, I will follow. If Chinese tourists coming to Sweden in the future would face a dialogue with the Swedish police, what’s your advice for them?
Gui Congyou: The Chinese Government is always telling Chinese citizens traveling abroad to abide by local laws and regulations, respect local customs, and behave in a civilized manner. On the other hand, all Chinese embassies and consulates abroad follow the local security situation closely and issue timely travel alerts and warnings when the situation changes. You can see our embassy website. We have posted several travel alerts since this summer. You can refer to my interview yesterday to find out why. Frankly speaking, the relevant departments of the Swedish side have not paid due attention to the safety of Chinese tourists. Up to now, not a single case reported by Chinese tourists has been solved by the Swedish police. What do you think should be done?
Q: In fact local Swedish people may also have their properties robbed or stolen. Do you believe that for tourists, it is more dangerous to travel in Sweden than other European countries?
Gui Congyou: As you can see from the record of my interview with Aftonbladet, I answered the same question yesterday. I have also discussed the safety of tourists with other ambassadors in Sweden. Some ambassadors also said that their citizens have frequently had their belongings stolen or robbed. We hope that the Swedish government and relevant departments will attach great importance to this and take effective measures to stop further theft and robbery against foreign tourists, so as to make Sweden safer than other countries!
Q: Some Swedish people, including source from the Swedish government, believe that the Chinese Government’s handling of this incident has something to do with the case of Gui Minhai, and that this is China’s retaliation against Sweden. What is your comment ?
Gui Congyou: I saw this assumption in your report on 16 September. I want to stress once again that three Chinese tourists having been treated brutally by the Swedish police is by no means a trivial matter! Their life was threatened and their dignity hurt in the middle of the night. In this regard, we made solemn representations to the Swedish side and asked the Swedish side to respond properly as soon as possible to the reasonable demands of the Chinese tourists. Do we need yet other causes for lodging representations? ! People who made this assumption have no regard at all for the safety of Chinese tourists and human dignity! I hope they will have some respect for basic human rights! Chinese tourists have been subjected to such rude treatment and thrown into such desperation, and yet they can be so indifferent, which makes us very shocked and puzzled.
Q: On the case of Gui Minhai, China has always insisted that Sweden is interfering in China’s internal affairs. Then can we say that China is now interfering in Sweden’s internal affairs when dealing with this incident?
Gui Congyou: First of all, I have to add one more point. According to the report published by your newspaper yesterday, some people said that the possibility of China intentionally directing this incident can’t be ruled out. I just want to say it was very imaginative of them to be capable of such fabrication! We all live in reality, not in fictional detective stories!
As to the case of Gui Minhai, he committed serious crimes in China and the Chinese side dealt with his case in accordance with law. The Swedish side unreasonably demanded the release of him, which is obviously an interference in China’s judicial sovereignty with no respect for the rule of law. It is an act out of ignorance of law. The three Chinese tourists did not violate the Swedish law, but were treated brutally by the Swedish police and had their physical and mental health and dignity hurt. They hope that the Swedish side will respond as soon as possible to their reasonable demands. As an embassy, we shoulder the responsibility of providing consular protection to Chinese citizens abroad. We certainly have an obligation to speak to the Swedish side and ask for a proper reply. This is a diplomatic as well as common international practice.
Q: The Swedish prosecution doesn’t think the police have violated the law. The Swedish police also rejected claims from the Chinese tourists for apology and compensation. What will happen next?
Gui Congyou: In a word, we will continue to ask the Swedish side to thoroughly investigate the case, act in accordance with law, and respond as soon as possible to the reasonable demands of the Chinese tourists. We are doing this to safeguard the basic human rights of Chinese citizens.
Q: What if the Swedish police refused?
Gui Congyou: We urge the Swedish police to respond promptly, but do not answer any hypothetical questions.
Q: How do you see the Sweden-China relations? Sweden is the first Western country to establish diplomatic relations with China, and the bilateral relations have always been good.
Gui Congyou: The Chinese people have always kept in mind the fact that Sweden took the lead among Western countries in establishing diplomatic relations with China, and they have friendly feelings towards the Swedish people. Our task is to work with the Swedish side to maintain, develop and consolidate the friendship between the two peoples and to promote the continuous development of bilateral relations. However, China-Sweden relations must develop on a good foundation and principle, that is, equality and mutual respect. In recent years, some Swedish forces, media and people have not treated China as an equal. They keep saying that Sweden is a small country, but on every occasion and on each single matter, they always point fingers at China and dictate how China should do. They put themselves in a position to lecture others and are full of arrogance, prejudice, stereotype and ignorance against China. We hope that these forces, media and individuals in Sweden will give up their sense of superiority and treat China as an equal. Only based on this foundation and principle can China-Sweden relations develop further.
The interview can also be viewed on the website of the Chinese embassy.
Since the new ambassador Gui Congyou assumed his post in August last year, the Chinese embassy have been vocal and aggressive in its criticism towards Swedish media and civil society. I recently wrote lengthy about this for Taiwan Sentinel in the article ”Chinese Embassies are Becoming Increasingly Assertive: the Case of Sweden”.