Why the Swedish King is cancelling his China trip over Gui Minhai

Yesterday it was reported in Swedish media that our King with short notice cancelled his upcoming China trip, that was supposed to take place between November 25 and December 1. According to national Swedish television (SVT), the decision was made due to ”complicated ongoing negotiations” over Gui Minhai, the Swedish publisher who have been imprisoned in China for over 1,100 days without a trial.

The news might be surprising or at least confusing to many readers, especially outside of Sweden. What is the relevance of the Swedish King visiting China? What role do the Swedish authorities play in this, and what does it mean for the fate of Gui Minhai? Let me try to provide a short analysis of the situation below.

Let’s start with the King. His planned visit to China was always more than the usual symbolic and low-key affair often carried out by other royalties. To begin with, the Chinese embassy have long been working and lobbying for the Swedish King to visit China. Hence the visit would have won prestige for Gui Congyou, the new and ambitious Chinese ambassador to Sweden.

Furthermore, the King had several important meetings and events planned during his trip. Among others, he was scheduled to meet with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and Pony Ma of Tencent, one of China’s most important tech companies.

The cancelled visit is a kick in the teeth for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in general, and for the ambassador in particular. So why did it happen?

According to SVT, complicated negotiations are currently taking place between Sweden and China over Gui Minhai. Those negotiations are said to have reached ”a critical point”. Anonymously but allegedly well placed sources have told SVT that the Swedish royal house and the Swedish Foreign Ministry have put forward the implementation of a process to release Gui Minhai as a condition for the Swedish King to visit China.

But earlier this week, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden once again fiercely attacked Gui Minhai’s ”bad personality” and ”illegal activities” in an interview with Swedish daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. He also blamed anyone who criticises China over the treatment of Gui Minhai for having a ”hidden political agenda”.

This interview was widely seen as a sign that Gui Minhai was not going to be set free anytime soon. Due to the circumstances the Swedish King have decided to cancel his China trip, but he is ready to change his mind would Gui Minhai be released or would the process for his release show signs that he will soon be set free, reports SVT.

Carl XVI Gustaf, the Swedish King, just cancelled his planned trip to China. The reason is said to be negotiations over Gui Minhai.

To me, this can be seen as evidence that the Chinese side have been issuing promises or guarantees that Gui Minhai is to be released. It has then also most likely in some failed to keep up its promises.

That would account for a similar situation as in January this year, when guarantees was made from the Chinese side that Gui Minhai was allowed to travel to Beijing in order to visit a doctor. But then, once en route to the capital, Gui was snatched from the train by plainclothes security agents, even though he was travelling in the company of two Swedish diplomats.

This is not all that surprising as it might sounds. Contrary to the unity that the Chinese Community Party wants to display, it is a political organisation of many different strong wills and political opinions. Difference of opinion how to handle the case of Gui Minhai are most likely wide within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as within the Ministry of State Security and not to mention in between those two ministries.

It is therefore likely that, let’s say, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden have made a promise regarding Gui Minhai in exchange for the royal visit. And that this promise could not be kept because someone higher up in the hierarchy refuse to release Gui.

Whatever the moves behind the closed doors of Chinese regime, I believe that the news on the cancelled trip is very telling in itself. Why would the Swedish King plan a trip to China, if no concessions regarding Gui Minhai were promised? And why would he with such a short notice cancel this trip, if those promises were not broken?

Another sign that supports my theory is that Svenska Dagbladet earlier this month cited anonymous Swedish government sources talking about progress in the negotiations over Gui Minhai, even saying that a solution might be just around the corner.

In any case, the fact that the Swedish King is cancelling his trip to China over Gui Minhai must be seen as very good news. It show that Gui Minhai is not forgotten by Swedish authorities, as many have feared, given the lack of official condemnations against the Chinese treatment of him.

Also, it shows that the Chinese authorities have at least sent signals that they are willing to release Gui Minhai, perhaps even as early as this year.

But more than anything, it constitutes an action of protest from the Swedish authorities against the broken promises and dilatory negotiating tactics of the Chinese regime.

As Jesper Bengtsson, head of Swedish PEN, said to SVT yesterday: ”This is an excellent decision if true. I believe that this kind of clear positioning from the Swedish King is exactly was is needed. Sweden must show that it doesn’t accept a Swedish citizen being imprisoned in another country under such murky conditions”.

I choose to interpret this news as a small sign that at least some parts of the Chinese party machine have come to understand that the negative consequences of keeping Gui Minhai locked up are much bigger than any possible benefits.