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Detained Hong Kong bookseller gives surreal interview, raising stakes for Sweden

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According to the Chinese government and state media, Gui Minhai is a bookselling Swedish citizen who:

  • Does not want to receive an international publishing award.
  • Does not want to receive consular support from Swedish diplomats in China.
  • Acquired Chinese state secrets while under police investigation, and then chose to take those state secrets on a sensitive train journey to Beijing.

The three claims outlined above have been made over the weekend in part during a likely coerced interview on February 9 between the detained Gui and some selected media — including Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, which has a complicated relationship with Chinese authorities in cases like these — and in part from the nationalistic tabloid Global Times, which reported that police “accused Gui of carrying multiple documents containing national secrets en route to Beijing.”

Gui, who was first abducted in Thailand by Chinese authorities in 2015 for his role in publishing and distributing gossipy books about China’s politicians from a shop in Hong Kong, was again snatched by Chinese authorities on January 20 this year. Gui’s daughter has called the interview “scripted by the people who are holding him,” Sweden continues to insist that it has a right to provide consular support to him, and international observers are highly skeptical that the second detention was any more lawful than the first.

  • “I know for a fact that that’s not his genuine wish, in addition to the other questionable statements he made,” Gui’s daughter Angela told the International Publishers Congress in New Delhi, responding to Gui’s assertion in the interview that he no longer wished to receive the Congress’s 2018 Prix Voltaire award.
  • “This video changes nothing. We continue to demand that our citizen be given the opportunity to meet with Swedish diplomatic staff,” a Sweden foreign ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.
  • “So the official narrative seems to be that some time between being released from detention late last year and then living in a police-assigned apartment, while still under investigation, Gui Minhai acquired state secrets that he then decided to take on a sensitive train journey,” New York Times reporter Chris Buckley tweeted, highlighting the credulity required to believe such a series of events without further evidence.

Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.