Sweden’s foreign ministry has summoned the Chinese ambassador for talks on Tuesday over his repeated criticism of the Scandinavian nation and alleged intimidation of the Swedish media.
Relations between Sweden and China have been strained for several years over Beijing’s detention of Chinese-born Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who published gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders out of a Hong Kong book shop.
Sweden has repeatedly called for his release.
A foreign ministry spokeswoman on Tuesday refused to disclose the specific issues that would be raised.
Chinese ambassador Gui Congyou in November threatened “counter-measures” after the culture minister awarded a Swedish rights prize to Gui Minhai.
Two business delegations to Stockholm were subsequently cancelled.
In an interview at the weekend on Swedish television SVT, he said of Sweden’s critical media coverage of China: “It’s like a 48-kilo lightweight boxer picking a fight with an 86-kilo heavyweight boxer, and the 86-kilo boxer out of courtesy and goodwill tells the 48-kilo boxer to mind his own business.”
“But the lightweight boxer doesn’t listen, he continues to provoke and forces himself into the heavyweight boxer’s home. What choice does then this 86-kilo boxer have?”
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told SVT the ambassador’s remarks were “an unacceptable threat”.
SVT also reported that Chinese embassy officials have repeatedly contacted Sweden’s main media outlets to criticise their coverage of China and to try to influence their reporting.
“What China’s ambassador is now doing is very serious. We have repeatedly, from the foreign ministry and myself too, explained to the ambassador that freedom of speech is protected by the constitution and that journalists have the right to perform their work completely freely,” Linde told SVT.
China’s embassy published a statement denying SVT’s report, saying: “We express discontent over the distortion of facts.”
Stockholm and Beijing have also been at odds over other issues in recent years.
In July, Sweden’s top court rejected a Beijing extradition request for a Chinese man accused of economic crimes because of risks of persecution and the death penalty in China.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Beijing hoped Sweden would “not become a safe haven for criminals”.
In 2018, a video showing Swedish police removing three Chinese tourists from a hotel in Stockholm was published online, which the Chinese embassy characterised as “brutal abuse”.
The row escalated when Swedish comedian Jesper Ronndahl produced a satirical information video for Chinese tourists and published it on Chinese social media site Youku.
Outrage, rather than laughter, ensued and the Chinese foreign ministry called the video a “gross insult to and vicious attack on China and the Chinese people”.