There has been a new unexpected twist in the case of Gui Minhai, and this time, the Swedish Ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt is involved.
Gui Minhai was born in China and later became a naturalized Swedish citizen. He was a Hong Kong-based bookseller before being sued in the Chinese mainland in 2015. That lawsuit strained relations between China and Sweden.
His daughter, Angela Gui, has recently detailed a bizarre account of her visit to Stockholm, which has embarrassed the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Angela Gui, who grew up in Sweden, now lives in Britain where she is studying for a PhD in history at university. She gave her account in a media interview last week and made an announcement Wednesday on her blog. Gui said that Ambassador Lindstedt contacted her in mid-January, inviting her to go to Stockholm to meet two Chinese businessmen, who Lindstedt trusted, to discuss a new approach to her father's case.
Angela Gui said she went to Stockholm in late January where she met two Chinese businessmen in the presence of Lindstedt. In her statement, she said that the two businessmen asked her to stop all media engagements and public comment in exchange for her father's release or commutation. According to Gui, Lindstedt supported the plan and said that if not, the relationship between Sweden and China would otherwise be further undermined.
Angela Gui said that after the meeting, she called the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for confirmation. "They told me they hadn't had the slightest idea this whole affair was taking place. They hadn't even been informed the ambassador was in the country," she wrote. In her account of what happened, she not only gave details of the meeting, but also described how she was feeling threatened and how the whole arrangement seemed suspicious.
The story has caused an uproar in Sweden. Gui made it clear that she would not keep quiet in exchange for various conditions and the Western media is backing her stand. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it already launched an internal investigation into Lindstedt, who had been appointed for another position in the Swedish government in March. Lindstedt has now been recalled to her country.
Is Angela Gui telling the truth? The Chinese Embassy in Sweden has responded that China has never and will never authorize anyone to be in contact with her. China handled Gui's case in accordance with the law and legal procedures. People need to be aware of Angela's unique position as Gui Minhai's daughter; and, considering her lack of experience in distinguishing complex issues, it is necessary for people to be cautious about her story.
However, the role of Ambassador Lindstedt is also part of this. If she did arrange a meeting between Angela Gui and the Chinese businessmen not authorized by Beijing, then we can make the following analysis.
First, there are domestic groups in Sweden that hope the relationship between Sweden and China will not be affected by Gui's incident in the long term. They are willing to facilitate public discussions between Stockholm and Beijing on this matter. Ambassador Lindstedt herself is a representative of such groups.
Moreover, the West likes to attack China by using Chinese dissidents and their families. Western countries believe that they can easily dig up stories about those people and they can be easily manipulated as well. However, what happened with Angela Gui has sent a clear message that there is always the risk of it backfiring. Those people are fully aware of being used by some Western interests, which results in a strong sense of insecurity and suspicion. Some of them are also selfish. A few years ago, a Chinese dissident well-known in the West left China for the US and later embarrassed his American patrons.
Furthermore, nowadays Western public opinion is increasingly radical and populist, which has made it difficult for some countries to adopt a realistic approach and repair relations with China after disputes. Some prominent foreigners who have a comprehensive understanding of China are facing an increasing risk of acting differently from the radical sentiment. Recently, John McCallum, Canadian ambassador to China, was criticized and finally lost his position, due to his attempt to ease the China-Canada relationship regarding the incident of Meng Wanzhou.
Last but not least, the incident has primarily embarrassed the Swedish Foreign Ministry more than causing trouble to China. Some Western media claim that Anna Lindstedt's behavior proves China exercises significant influence on ambassadors of Western countries to China. Such a comment is highly unprofessional and makes no sense except to show they do not know what they are talking about. Ambassadors are usually among those in their own country who hope at the utmost to maintain sound relations with the country to which they are posted. Generally, they are supposed to play a dovish role, not a hawkish one. Some Western media authors need to learn basic ABC knowledge of diplomacy. (The author is a commentator with the Global Times)