The Local Sweden | Published: September 17, 2018
One expert told The Local that the “excessive reaction” was linked to tense bilateral relations and the case of an imprisoned Swedish bookseller in particular. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT
An apparent mix-up over check-in time between a group of Chinese tourists in Stockholm and the hostel they were staying in has escalated into a diplomatic row between China and Sweden.
The Chinese Embassy criticized Swedish police for what it called the “brutal abuse of Chinese tourists” and warned Chinese nationals to take extra security precautions while in Sweden, after an incident in early September when a family was escorted out of a hotel by police.
According to the family, who shared their story first on social media and then with Chinese media, the family arrived in Stockholm a day before their reservation at the Generator Hostel, at around midnight. They asked if they could sleep on chairs in the hostel’s lobby before check-in at 2pm the following day.
At that point, the man who was travelling with his parents says hostel staff refused, even when he explained that his parents were ill, and contacted police. Staff at the Generator Hostel could not be reached by The Local on Monday, but the hostel’s manager told Dagens Nyheter that police were called following “verbal threats” made against staff.
According to Chinese press, police dropped the family off at Skogskyrkogården in southern Stockholm, and were helped to reach the city centre by passersby.
Videos showing Swedish police carrying the older man out of the hotel were widely circulated on Chinese social media, gaining attention in the national press. In the footage, the family can be heard saying “this is killing” (in English) and “save me” (in Chinese).
The incident took place on September 2nd, but over the weekend the situation escalated as the Chinese Ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, condemned the actions of Swedish police. An embassy spokesperson said China was “deeply appalled and angered”, accusing police of having “severely endangered the life and violated the basic human rights of the Chinese citizens” and calling for action from the Swedish government.
The embassy also issued a warning to Chinese nationals, saying it was “highly concerned” about their safety and human rights in the Scandinavian country and that tourists should “strengthen security”.
“We have a dialogue with the Chinese embassy and have confirmed that the matter would be dealt with by the responsible authorities in the justice system. It’s a matter for the justice system to deal with and they have done so, and they have found that there is no suspicion of any offence by the police officers involved,” a press spokesperson for Sweden’s Foreign Ministry told The Local.
Asked if the ministry had a message to Chinese tourists, she said: “Sweden is a safe and secure country and individual incidents such as this are dealt with by the responsible authority here. We hope to welcome many more Chinese tourists in the future.”
Some commenters on Chinese-Swedish relations have said there may be a link between the row and other aspects of the currently strained relations, including the imprisonment of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai.
Jojje Olsson is a Swedish journalist and author covering Southeast Asia with a focus on China from Taiwan, after being banned from Beijing after eight years living and working in the city. He agreed with a government source cited by Aftonbladet that the hotel row was linked to “poor bilateral relations in general, and Sweden’s request for Gui Minhai’s release in particular”.
Gui Minhai was one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers – known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders – who disappeared in 2015 (while he was on holiday in Thailand) and resurfaced in mainland China. He was released in October 2017, but was arrested again on a train to Beijing in January while travelling with two Swedish diplomats.
“The case with the Chinese tourists is an opportunity for (the ambassador) to try to take back the initiative and show who makes the decisions, by forcing apologies, compensation and punishment for the police. Probably the reaction would not have been as strong during the former ambassador, or if Gui Minhai’s case was not in the background,” Olsson told The Local.
The journalist pointed out that the current ambassador has been criticized in the Swedish media for “aggressive style”.
One of the controversial aspects of the case is that the family claimed they were taken by police to a cemetery, where they felt unsafe and frightened; state media outlet ECNS cited the family as saying: “They kept beating my parents and even threatened to abandon us in the woods with wild animals.”
“They weren’t ‘chucked out’ in the forest, or in the actual cemetery, but on the pavement outside, near an underground station,” Olsson said. “Probably because they were being so loud and it was the only place where they wouldn’t disturb people sleeping.”
The incident at the Stockholm hotel is the third time since August that China has issued warnings to tourists in Sweden, which has invested heavily in recent years to attract more Chinese tourists, according to Guancha. The earlier security reminders came after a spate of car burnings in western Swedish suburbs, and ahead of several political demonstrations later in the month.