Transparency is the best way forward on Gui Minhai detention
The latest case relating to the Hong Kong-based bookseller is causing concern around the world and a full explanation would be welcomed from both parties involved
Consular assistance for those travelling or living abroad is a fundamental feature of diplomatic relations between nations. Where there is none, another nation’s embassy or consulate is usually nominated to offer help regarding the needs and rights under law of a foreign national.
A case in point is that of Hong Kong-based bookseller Gui Minhai, now back in detention on the mainland, which raises the issue of when you stop being a Chinese national.
Mainland-born Gui has long been a Swedish citizen. He disappeared while on holiday in Thailand in 2015 and later served a jail sentence over the border for a fatal drink-driving accident in 2003.
After his release pending a trial for illegal bookselling, he was recently snatched by mainland authorities while travelling by train to Beijing with two Swedish diplomats, reportedly for health checks.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said diplomats should not violate international or Chinese law, which appeared to suggest the Swedes had done so. Sweden’s foreign minister countered that Gui’s trip with the diplomats was “perfectly in line with basic international rules giving us the right to provide our citizens with consular support”.
Beijing did not specify what laws the Swedes might have breached, but two friends of Gui said a condition of his release was that he did not leave Ningbo city limits pending his trial.
When you stop being a Chinese national remains a key question. Article 9 of the Chinese nationality law says: “Any Chinese national who … has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will shall automatically lose Chinese nationality.”
The other key question is whether Gui prompted his detention by breaching conditions of his release. The Chinese side has never clearly explained. Stockholm says the Chinese authorities have “assured us that Gui has been free since release … and that we can have any contact we wish …”.
There is need for clarity on both sides in a case that is causing concern around the world. The Swedish embassy needs to explain its actions in the context of any legal conditions placed on Gui’s liberty.
Beijing needs to be transparent and reveal the grounds for his detention. China can insist it has its own laws but, as a major power and champion of globalisation, it needs to explain them unambiguously for the sake of its credibility and image.