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What Sweden Should Say about China’s Detention of its National

Foreign Minister Missed Opportunity to Press China for Gui Minhai’s Release

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting on North Korea's nuclear program at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., December 15, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom delivered her annual foreign policy address this week, and immediately faced a storm of criticism for her failure to speak explicitly about China’s repeated arbitrary detention of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai. Wallstrom defended herself by suggesting these speeches do not normally reference specific cases.

Yet in that speech Wallstrom emphasized Sweden’s commitments to protecting its citizens and promoting human rights worldwide. 

So here’s what Wallstrom could have said—and, indeed, should still say—to Beijing and the world about Gui Minhai:

Although we do not usually speak of individual cases in these annual addresses, China’s 2014 enforced disappearance and 2018 arbitrary detention of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai is sufficiently serious to warrant a different approach.  When Chinese police took Gui from our diplomats while on a train bound for Beijing on January 22, China made this issue profoundly political.  China has rejected its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations—a treaty critical for the safety of people in foreign countries.

Members from the pro-democracy Civic Party carry a portrait of Gui Minhai (L) and Lee Bo during a protest outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong, China January 19, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

Sweden is committed to ensuring that the rights of its citizens are protected, whether in Sweden or around the world, and upholding a rules-based international order.  At the forthcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Sweden will call for Gui’s release and express concerns about serious human rights violations in China at all available opportunities.  We will work to garner the support of other UN member states who may also, some day, find one their citizens unjustly detained in China. Sweden will also urge all UN treaty bodies and mandate holders to take up the case and press China for answers. 

Sweden will also raise Gui’s case through the European Union, and make full use of the EU’s influence by working with the EU delegation to secure Gui’s release. 

And Sweden will pay greater attention to the importance of human rights in its relations with China by including a demand for Gui’s release in all—all—bilateral interactions. If Sweden does not swiftly receive a positive reply from China we will be forced to reconsider high-level visits and our longstanding, good-faith dialogues. 

We regret the circumstances that lead us to take such steps, but as a country that values its citizens and human rights, and in the face of Chinese government recalcitrance, we can do no less.

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