At a time when China is facing outrage across the globe for the COVID-19 cover-up and its utterly hostile attitude, the Scandinavian country of Sweden has shown the way ahead by closing the last existing Confucius Institute in the country.
The Confucius schools are Beijing-backed schools around the world promoting Chinese language and culture at the outset. These institutes are infamous for disseminating Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Sweden had shut down four such Confucius Institutes last year, and that left only one such Beijing-backed school in the Southern Swedish town of Falkenberg. But this last existing Confucius school in Sweden has also been suspended for the past one week.
Sweden has shut down Confucius schools citing security concerns, as Beijing is accused of politically influencing academia and strongarming the faculty in these schools to skip sensitive issues like Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet.
This makes Sweden the first European country to take stringent action against the Beijing-sponsored schools, and this manifests sheer hostility in China-Sweden relations. Recently, Sweden’s second-largest city Gothenburg also severed ties its twin city agreement with Shanghai.
Gothenburg Mayor Axel Josefson told Radio Sweden that there has not been much exchange between the two cities, and added, “Exchange in the past two to three years has been minimal.”
Josefson also said, “And considering the times we are in, we don’t find it suitable to extend the twin-city agreement.”
Gothenburg however is not the only city to do so, and several Swedish cities have broken ties with their twin cities in China in recent months. Linköping severed ties with Guangzhou, Luleå with Xi’an, and Västerås with Jinan.
Ties between Stockholm and Beijing have been souring since 2015, when a Chinese-origin Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai was arrested by Chinese authorities. Gui Minhai used to sell critical titles about Xi Jinping which didn’t go down well with the Communist regime in China.
Minhai disappeared from Thailand in late 2015, only to reappear in mainland China “confessing” various crimes on the State TV. He served two years in prison before being released in October 2017. However, he was arrested again in January 2018 while travelling to Beijing along with Swedish diplomats.
This case has become a major flashpoint between Sweden and China, as Stockholm honoured the bookseller with the Tucholsky prize for his service to the cause of Freedom of Expression, despite Chinese threats.
Beijing’s ambassador to Sweden since 2017, Gui Congyou has been acting like any other Chinese diplomat- issuing threats and using uncourteous language unbecoming of a diplomat.
In the month of November last year, Congyou issued an open threat to Stockholm on Sweden’s public broadcaster Radio Sweden. The Chinese envoy said, “We treat our friends with fine wine, but for our enemies we have shotguns,” on the eve of Gui Minhai’s award ceremony.
The confrontation went a step further in February this year, when Beijing punished Gui Minhai for criticising the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping.
The formal charge on which Beijing held him guilty was “illegally providing intelligence” to overseas parties, and the Swedish bookseller was sentenced to 10-years imprisonment. The punishment itself was imposed on flagrant violation of the canons of fair trial.
Stockholm-Beijing have been headed South ever since over two major issues- the Coronavirus cover-up and the case of Gui Minhai that has been ruining ties between the two countries for the past five years.
Stockholm is now acting at all possible fronts from severing twin-city ties with China to shutting down Confucius schools in the country, and rightly so- if Swedish nationals are jailed for criticising Xi Jinping by Chinese courts that seem as murky as Kangaroo courts, then why should Beijing enjoy the privilege of promoting Chinese language and culture in the Scandanavian country?
In fact, Sweden is the only country that is substantially standing up to Chinese aggression in the larger backdrop of palpable anti-China sentiment within Europe.
Recently, the European Union officials bowed down to Chinese pressure and softened their criticism of China in a report about how governments push disinformation during Pandemics.
Meanwhile, other countries like Germany, France, and the United Kingdom too have been displaying palpable anti-Beijing sentiment, but none of these countries have shown the willpower to stand up to Chinese aggression and take stern action against Beijing’s misadventures the way Sweden has.
Standing up to Chinese aggression is the only way out when it comes to tackling Beijing’s bullying, and Stockholm is now showing how to counter China’s hostility at a time when the entire world is trying to find answers to China’s misadventures.