Sweden’s culture minister on Friday awarded the annual Tucholsky literary prize to a Chinese author despite a threat from the Chinese ambassador to ban her from entering the country.
Author Gui Minhai (桂民海), a naturalized Swede and co-owner of a Hong Kong store that sold gossipy books about Chinese leaders, was detained by police in eastern China last year while in the company of two Swedish diplomats with whom he was traveling to Beijing.
Standing next to Gui’s empty seat at a ceremony in Stockholm, Swedish Minister of Culture Amanda Lind said it was “crucial for culture and democracy that artists and authors can work freely.”
Earlier on Friday, Chinese Ambassador to Sweden Gui Conyou (桂從友) urged PEN Sweden to refrain from recognizing the author and called on Lind not to participate in the awards ceremony, according to the Swedish news agency TT.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the country “would never cave in to this kind of threat. Never. We have freedom of speech in Sweden and that is the point, period.”
“Let’s see what possible consequences this may have,” Lofven told Swedish broadcaster SVT. “But we stand up for freedom of expression in Sweden. That’s how Sweden is built and that’s how we should have it.”
“We were a little bit surprised ... but we didn’t expect this strong reaction,” Swedish PEN chairman Jesper Bengtsson said. “The Chinese ambassador here has been very proactive in trying to silence people, so this is probably the result of the same strategy.”
China is conducting a “large-scale public diplomacy campaign in Sweden which is unique [within] the European Union,” Swedish Institute of International Affairs Asian Program head Bjorn Jerden said, adding that it is “the first time they directly threatened the Swedish government.”
China is holding Gui Minhai on suspicion of leaking state secrets and has rebuked Sweden for demanding his release. He was taken off a train by police in eastern China in 2018 while in the company of two Swedish diplomats with whom he was traveling to Beijing.
In related news, Australian parliamentary intelligence committee head Andrew Hasite, who has previously criticized Beijing and planned to travel to China on a study tour next month, said he had been blocked from entering China due to his “frankness about the Chinese Communist Party.”
Hastie warned several months ago that the world’s approach to containing China’s rise resembles the “catastrophic failure” to prevent the advance of Nazi Germany, adding that Australia’s sovereignty and freedoms could be threatened by Beijing.
“We regret the decision of the government of the People’s Republic of China... that at this time Mr Hastie and Senator Paterson are not welcome on a China Matters study tour to Beijing,” tour organizer China Matters said late on Friday.
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