Chinese ambassador Gui Congyou during his interview with SVT. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
In an interview with Sweden's public broadcaster SVT, Ambassador Gui Congyou likened the Swedish media to a puny boxer determined to provoke a much larger rival — in a statement that has been interpreted as a threat.
“It's like a 48kg lightweight boxer who is trying to provoke a boxing match with an 86kg heavyweight, and the 86kg boxer want to be nice and protect the 48kg boxer, so he tells him to go away and watch out for himself,” he said.
“But the lightweight boxer doesn't listen, and instead continues to provoke the heavyweight, and even forces his way into his home. So what choice does the heavyweight boxer have?”
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde on Sunday criticised the ambassador for what she said amounted to an “unacceptable threat”.
“In Sweden we have freedom of expression, and what the Chinese Ambassador is not doing is extremely serious,” she said. “We have continuously conveyed to the ambassador from the foreign ministry and even from me personally that freedom of expression is protected by the constitution and that journalists have the right to carry out their work completely unhindered.”
There has been tension between Sweden and China every since the dissident bookseller Gui Minhai disappeared while on holiday in Thailand in 2015.
Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen who lived near Gothenburg, reappeared three months later in a video confession broadcast on Chinese media.
In it, he said that he had returned to mainland China and surrendered himself to the authorities of his own volition. Despite the efforts of his daughter Angela Gui, he remains in detention to this day.
According to an enquiry sent out by SVT, Ambassador Gui Congyou (who is no relation to Gui Minhai) has frequently sent emails and letters attacking Swedish newspapers and broadcasters for their coverage.
The Svenska Dagbladet and Expressen newspapers both said they had received very frequent mails over the past two years, as did Swedish state broadcasters Sveriges Radio and SVT.
Karin Olsson, Expressen's head of culture, told SVT that she and her colleagues had begun to receive a steady stream of mails as soon as the ambassador took his position in September 2017.
“It's very exaggerated rhetoric which leaves no doubt at all at the aim is to push us into self-censorship, so to that extent I see it as a type of pressure,” she told SVT.
In the SVT interview Gui Congyou criticised Olsson's “total ignorance and disdain for the law in the the case of Gui Minhai”, threatening that Expressen staff would not be granted visas to China while her coverage continued.
Even the very Swedish newswire TT has been criticised by the ambassador for the way it covers news stories involving China.