China demands apology over Swedish broadcaster’s comedy show on tourist spat

Attacks on programme and its presenter are the latest turn in an international incident that began when three Chinese visitors arrived at a Stockholm hostel well before check-in time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 7:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 September, 2018, 4:19pm

China’s embassy in Stockholm has lashed out at Sweden’s national television broadcaster, demanding an apology for “insulting China” in a comedy show referring to a controversial case involving three Chinese tourists.

The embassy said on Saturday that the Sveriges Television (SVT) programme, which was aired on Friday night, and presenter Jesper Rönndahl “spread and advocate racism and xenophobia outright”.

“SVT argued that this is an entertainment programme, an argument which is totally unacceptable and we firmly reject. We urge SVT and the programme to immediately give an apology,” the embassy said.

On his Twitter account, Rönndahl‏ said only that the programme had “started a diplomatic crisis with a superpower”.

What Chinese tourist row in Sweden says about the future of Europe-China relations

The embassy also issued a fresh warning to Chinese tourists in Sweden, saying it had received reports about “theft and robbery” almost on a daily basis since April but the Swedish police had not solved a single case.

The attacks on Rönndahl and Swedish television are the latest twist in the case of three Chinese visitors – a couple and their adult son surnamed Zeng – who arrived at a hostel in the Swedish capital just after midnight on September 2, about 14 hours before check-in time.

The family asked if they could wait in the lobby and refused to leave the premises when they were not allowed to stay. Hostel staff called the police and officers escorted them outside.

Footage of Zeng screaming at police officers outside the hostel was later posted on Chinese social media.

China said the tourists were mistreated and accused Sweden of violating diplomatic protocol by not responding to its request for a thorough investigation.

Gui Congyou, China’s ambassador in Sweden, said it was “inhumane” for the Swedish police to take the family to an outdoor area at midnight.

Swedish prosecutor Mats Ericsson told the Aftonbladet newspaper that no preliminary investigation had been launched because “we made the assessment that no crime on the part of the police had been committed”.

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China lodged diplomatic protests in Beijing and Stockholm, and the embassy issued a safety warning for its citizens travelling to Sweden.

According to social media news site What’s on Weibo, Friday night’s SVT’s Svenska Nyheter (Swedish News) listed “a number of dos and don’ts for Chinese tourists in a satirical ‘information video’”.

In a version translated into Mandarin and posted on Chinese video site Youku, Chinese were described as racists and Zeng’s mother was mocked.

But the attack on the show is unusual.

When comedian John Oliver, host of US show Last Week Tonight, criticised Chinese President Xi Jinping over the abolition of presidential term limits in China, the Chinese embassy in the United States remained silent. Instead, the Chinese authorities took a more low-key approach of erasing mentions of John Oliver on the internet in China.

Zhang Baohui, professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said that “in the eyes of the Chinese embassy, it may be hard to digest the intentions of this show”.

“It is difficult to know whether it is just a comical show or has malign intentions,” Zhang said.

He said the case reflected cultural differences between China and Western countries.

“What is right and what is wrong is much shaped by one’s own culture,” Zhang said.

Jan Weidenfeld, from the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, said earlier that China’s criticism of Sweden’s domestic human rights over the tourist case was part of a wider Chinese foreign policy strategy on the issue.

“China is trying to relativise human rights in an attempt to say, ‘in Sweden, the human rights of Chinese tourists have been violated’, in an attempt to establish a kind of level playing field,” Weidenfeld said.