Chinese authorities arrest Swedish national

Levels of national security are on high alert in China. As is well-known, the Chinese government is an authoritarian regime that permits no letting-up when it comes to arresting political dissidents ‘for the sake of national stability’, as mentioned in my last post. The level of freedom of political expression in China is worryingly low as compared to that of liberal democratic countries in the West, and this restriction on people’s political freedom has been reinforced by the current administration.

This aspect of China’s regime has drawn a lot of criticisms from the international community, some of whom are determined to defend and promote human rights in mainland China. China may be growing fast economically, but politically it is still quite conservative, and it is this aspect of China’s regime that is creating political tension between her and the West. It is interesting, therefore, to see recent decisions to award the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize to political prisoners in China who have been detained for their fight for democracy and human rights e.g. the late Liu Xiaobo. There is now also talk of awarding the Peace Prize to the democratic activists in Hong Kong (Joshua Wong etc) who have recently been bailed out of jail. These decisions clearly do not sit well with China as they would not want to be seen as sitting on the wrong side of international peace, which is what the Nobel Peace Prize symbolises. Recently, however, there is an incident which seems to have pushed this tension just a bit further and may prove significant in the long run. It is the arrest of a Chinese named Gui Minhai on board a train to Beijing. In contrast to the cases mentioned above where the detainees are Chinese citizens and are hence bound by Chinese law (Hong Kong included into the picture, though Hong Kong citizenship is a special case), Gui Minhai renounced his Chinese citizenship many years ago and is a Swedish national due to his education in Sweden (PhD Gothenburg). His arrest in China, not to mention in the presence and company of two Swedish diplomats, has drawn reaction not only from activists abroad (led by his daughter Angela Gui who is now studying at Cambridge) but also from the Swedish government as well as the German embassy and the US government who have condemned China’s arrest of Gui as a violation of international law and have announced that they will fight for his release and safety.

This is a risky step that China has taken in arresting someone who is technically a foreign national, albeit a former citizen and an ethnic Chinese, and it would be interesting to see how things work out in this case. On paper, it is unlikely that even if Sweden were to secure the release and safety of Gui, which is by no means straightforward and will be an uphill battle, China would change its way in courtesy of the West, since it is far too big and important to be bullied and coerced by foreign intervention (the way that North Korea, a small hermit half-nation, has been sanctioned by the international community and are (finally) showing some signs of co-operation).

Nonetheless, this does seem to be a dangerous step taken by China which may draw more hostility from the West than it would like. As mentioned in my last post, policing your citizens with an iron fist in your own territory may be legally permissible (though not morally justifiable), but arresting foreign nationals whose governments are willing to react is potentially an act of hostility. Let’s pray for the safety of Gui and his relatives in China and abroad. For more information, please visit this website.


Langley Henry

Langley Henry is a postdoctorate Research fellow in political science at St John’s College, University of Cambridge after having done his undergraduate (Politics, Philosophy, Economics (PPE)) and postgraduate (Political Science and History of Western Thought) degrees (B.A., M.Sc., DPhil) at Balliol College, University of Oxford. He is the author of several essays that have been published in peer-reviewed journals and is now working on publishing his Oxford doctoral thesis as a monograph with Oxford University Press. Other than his academic work, he is a keen blogger and has written on contemporary and historical political topics as well as on western contemporary music.


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