Sweden sends new ambassador to China in wake of diplomatic scandal

Sweden sends new ambassador to China in wake of diplomatic scandal
The Swedish embassy in Bejing. Photo: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
Sweden has appointed a new ambassador to China, after her predecessor was accused of breaching national security by organizing a 'secret' meeting over imprisoned bookseller Gui Minhai.

Helena Sångeland was on Thursday named as Sweden's new ambassdor to China.

Sångeland is currently the ambassador to Iran and has previously headed the Swedish foreign ministry's Asia and Oceania unit, and been ambassador to Kuala Lumpur.

She will start her new role in Beijing later this spring, the foreign ministry said.

She will have her work cut out for her. Ties between Sweden and China have been strained in recent years, following the detention of publisher Gui Minhai, a Chinese-born Swede who vanished into Chinese custody in January 2018 under murky circumstances.

China also lodged a diplomatic complaint in September 2018 accusing Swedish police of treating Chinese tourists “brutally” after a family was ejected from a Stockholm hotel.

Following that incident, a Swedish satirical current affairs programme on SVT poked fun at China, prompting Beijing to demand an apology and accusing it of racism.


Sweden's new ambassador to China, Helena Sångeland. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Sångeland's appointment comes after Sweden recalled former ambassador Anna Lindstedt. The daughter of Gui Minhai accused the diplomat of having invited her to a “very strange” meeting with Chinese businessmen who claimed they could assist her father – a Swedish national and one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who disappeared in 2015 and resurfaced in mainland China.

In 2016, Gui Minhai appeared on Chinese television saying he had returned to take responsibility for his involvement in a fatal car accident years before in Zheijiang province, a confession roundly dismissed by human rights campaigners. He was released in October 2017, though his daughter has said he was living under surveillance in a police-managed apartment at this point, and he was arrested again in January 2018.

Prosecutors are currently investigating Lindstedt, whom Sweden's foreign ministry said had not informed them of the meeting, for breaching the country's national security by “arbitrary conduct when negotiating with a foreign power”. She has denied the allegations.

Former ambassador Anna Lindstedt. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

The investigation was sparked after Angela Gui wrote about the meeting in a blog post on the site Medium earlier this year. She said she travelled to Stockholm in January at Lindstedt's invitation, for a meeting with businessmen the ambassador said could assist Gui's father.

“There was a lot of wine, a lot of people, and a lot of increasingly strange questions,” Gui wrote. “But because Ambassador Lindstedt was present and seemingly supportive of whatever it was that was going on, I kept assuming that this had been initiated by the Swedish Foreign Ministry.”

She wrote that the meetings mostly took place in a hotel lounge only accessible by a key card, and when she wanted to meet a friend she was told to invite the friend to the lounge as well. Gui, who has spent the years since her father's imprisonment campaigning for his release, said the businessmen made vague promises to help her father and even offered her a job in China and help arranging a visa.

The businessmen claimed to be in touch with the Chinese Communist Party, Gui said in her blog post, and at one point offered to help her father in exchange for Gui's silence and an end to her campaigning. They also claimed that Lindstedt's career would be damaged if Gui continued to speak to media.

“Ambassador Lindstedt, who was sat next to me, agreed to the plan. She said that if my father was released, she'd go on Swedish television and speak of the bright future of Sweden-China relations, as well as express regret over the Chinese tourist hotel incident in Stockholm last year, and the subsequent coverage of it on a Swedish comedy show,” Gui wrote.

Lindstedt has not spoken about the allegations other than welcoming the investigation and denying having committed a crime.

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