China accuses Sweden of protocol breach as row over police treatment of tourists ramps up

Request for investigation into incident still unanswered, foreign ministry says, as man at centre of row admits he ‘crumbled and lost my mind’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 4:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 5:18am

China’s foreign ministry has joined the row over the alleged mistreatment of a family of Chinese tourists at a hostel in Stockholm, accusing Sweden of not following diplomatic and international protocol.

Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the ministry and the Chinese embassy in Stockholm had requested a thorough investigation into what occurred, but had yet to receive a response.

“This is not in line with diplomatic norms and international practice,” he said. “We again call on the Swedish side to pay attention to China’s concerns and take measures to protect the safety and legitimate interests of Chinese tourists.”

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Geng’s comments came after Chinese ambassador to Sweden Gui Congyou accused Swedish police of ignoring his request for a meeting about the incident.

“We have notified the Swedish government and demanded a meeting with Swedish police,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the newspaper Aftonbladet on Sunday.

“But two weeks have already gone, and the Swedish police have not responded to our request. We are especially puzzled by this.”

The dispute began when the Zeng family – a man and his parents – arrived at the Generator Stockholm hostel just after midnight on September 2. As they could not check in until 2pm that day, the family asked if they could wait in the lobby, but were told they could not. When they refused to leave the premises, staff called the police and officers carried them out.

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Zeng filed complaints with the police and the Chinese embassy at the time of the incident, and on Saturday, an embassy statement accused the police in Stockholm of mistreating him and his parents.

Gui said that before taking up his post at the embassy just over a year ago he considered Sweden a safe country, but in that time his perception had changed.

“The embassy receives an average of two cases of wallet or passport theft every day,” he said.

The diplomatic row comes at a time of turbulence in relations between Beijing and Stockholm. The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing considers a separatist, visited the Scandinavian country last week, while Beijing continues to hold Gui Minhai, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen and book publisher, in custody.

Ambassador Gui, however, denied there was any connection between the Zengs’ case and Gui Minhai.

“I want to emphasise that Gui Minhai has committed serious crimes in China and the Chinese authorities have acted in accordance with the law,” he said.

“Have these three Chinese tourists broken Swedish law? If they had, why didn’t the police and hotel staff immediately contact the embassy?

“We have basically reached out to all relevant government authorities, but almost all of them said they are not responsible.”

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On Chinese social media, the response to the incident was mixed. A video clip of Zeng crying and screaming at police officers outside the hotel, while pointing at his elderly parents who were lying on the nearby pavement, was widely derided, with one internet user describing the tourist as a “big baby”.

Zeng said in an interview with Chinese tabloid Global Times that he reacted the way he did because he had been upset by the sight of his parents being carried out of the hostel by the police.

“At this point I just crumbled and lost my mind,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t even consider whether this was appropriate, I just wanted to denounce the police’s behaviour and seek help from pedestrians.”

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Workers at the hostel told the Chinese embassy that Zeng had been “emotional” and “talked loudly” during the initial dispute over whether he and his family could wait in reception, Chinese news portal Jinyun reported on Monday.

The Aftonbladet report quoted a witness to the event as saying the “the Swedish police did not behave rudely”.

“They just tried to calm down the whole situation, but the Chinese tourists were crying loudly and refused to cooperate.”