Sweden’s king cancels planned trip to China

King Carl XVI Gustaf has cancelled a planned trip to China, with the royal court giving the ongoing political uncertainty in Sweden as the reason.

Sweden's king cancels planned trip to China
King formally opens parliament in September. Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT

The visit to China and Hong Kong was arranged by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) and takes place between November 25th and December 1st. But the king did not join the delegation, Dagens Industri was first to report.

“The reason is Sweden's situation in regard to government-building,” said the Royal Court's press chief, Margareta Thorgren, referring to the fact that over two months since elections, Sweden is still being run by a caretaker administration. “With regard to all overseas trips, we have consultation and dialogue with the foreign ministry and in this case the decision is that the king will not go.”

As head of state, the king plays a key role in the formation of government in Sweden, and has had several meetings with the parliamentary speaker over the past week, with more talks planned for this week.

However, Swedish broadcaster SVT has said that the cancellation was partly linked to “sensitive negotiations” relating to the imprisonment of Swedish-Chinese author Gui Minhai.

Gui 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.

Swedish authorities, as well as the EU and several human rights' organizations, have called for Gui's release, but neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Royal Court would confirm to SVT or TT whether this was a factor in the cancellation of the king's trip.

SVT reports that the Foreign Ministry and Royal Court had “wanted to get a clear process for [Gui's] release in the near future underway in order for the king to carry out his visit to China”. In an interview with Svenska Dagbladet this week, the Chinese ambassador in Stockholm Gui Congyou reiterated attacks on the bookseller, saying there was “a political agenda behind the criticism” of China relating to the case.

While the king will be involved with the formation of Sweden's next government, there is no formal requirement for him to remain in the country until a government is formed. With the next prime ministerial vote set for no earlier than December 5th, any cabinet meetings requiring the head of state's presence would not be held until at least a day after that.

Thorgren confirmed that the king had carried out multiple overseas trips during the autumn, but added: “These were of a shorter nature, and the schedule planners at the court have had a constant level of preparedness. The fact the king isn't participating in this trip is due to it being very far away and lasting a whole week.”

READ ALSO: Swedish satire programme says it won't apologize to China over sketch


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Sweden’s right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The four parties backing Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister on Sunday announced that they had agreed to keep the current Speaker, Andreas Norlén in place, when the role is put to a vote as parliament opens on Monday.

Sweden's right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The parties won a three-seat majority over the bloc led by the incumbent Social Democrats in Sweden’s general election on September 11th, and are currently in the middle of negotiating how they will form Sweden’s next government. 

Sweden’s parliament meets at 11am for the official installation of the 349 MPs for this mandate period. The votes for the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers are the first item on the agenda, after which the parties each select their parliamentary leaders and then vote on who should chair each of the parliamentary committees. 

READ ALSO: What happens next as parliament reopens? 

In a joint press release announcing the decision, the parties also agreed that the Sweden Democrats would be given eight of the 16 chairmanships the bloc will have of parliamentary committees in the next parliament, and that MPs for all four parties would back Julia Kronlid, the Sweden Democrats’ Second Deputy Leader, as the second deputy Speaker, serving under Norlén. 

In the press release, the parties said that Norlén had over the last four years shown that he has “the necessary personal qualities and qualifications which the role requires”. 

The decision to retain Norlén, who presided over the 134 days of talks and parliamentary votes that led to the January Agreement in 2019, was praised by Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson. 

Norlén, she said in a statement, had “managed his responsibilities well over the past four years and been a good representative of Sweden’s Riksdag.” 

The decision to appoint Kronlid was opposed by both the Left Party and the Green Party, who said that she supported tightening abortion legislation, and did not believe in evolution.

The Green Party’s joint leader Märta Stenevi said that her party “did not have confidence in Julia Kronlid”, pointing to an interview she gave in 2014 when she said she did not believe that humans were descended from apes.

The party has proposed its finance spokesperson Janine Alm Ericson as a rival candidate. 

The Left Party said it was planning to vote for the Centre Party’s candidate for the post second deputy Speaker in the hope of blocking Kronlid as a candidate.