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Diplomacy

From Slovakia to South Korea, five places that have paid the price for displeasing China

A controversial Swedish TV satire was only the latest incident to trigger Beijing’s ire at an offending nation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 8:42pm

Insult China or its people, and you will pay for it. That is the message to nations that stray over China’s red lines, both in official policy and in unofficial treatment of its citizens.

Falling out of favour with China this week was Sweden. China’s embassy in Stockholm rejected a second apology for a Swedish television programme’s portrayal of Chinese tourists.

The programme, Svenska Nyheter, had lampooned the case of a man and his parents who were removed from the Generator Stockholm hostel on September 2 after arriving a day early for their reservation.

In the days that followed, Gui Congyou, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden, claimed the tourists had been maltreated, accused Sweden of violating diplomatic protocol and arrogance, and warned Chinese people against visiting the country.

China’s anger at Sweden may be rooted in deeper issues, such as Stockholm’s inviting the Dalai Lama to visit this month. But the reality is Sweden is now in line to become the latest nation to feel China’s wrath after displeasing it.

Here are some places that have suffered consequences after offending the Chinese government and its people.

Japan challenges China with submarine exercise in South China Sea

Slovakia: official talks suspended

A day after Slovak President Andrej Kiska met with the Dalai Lama in October 2016, the Chinese foreign ministry said it was “resolutely opposed” to the meeting and promised “a corresponding response”.

In November, Premier Li Keqiang cancelled a meeting with Slovak prime minister Robert Fico that was expected to be held in Riga before the opening of a parley between China and Central and Eastern European countries.

In response to the cancellation, Fico said “we must repair the damage that has been inflicted,” and invited Li to visit his country. When Li met with Fico later that same day, Fico said Slovakia maintained a “principled stance” on the one-China principle, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

Japan: supply resources cut off

China is the world’s top supplier of valuable rare earth metals, crucial inputs in producing a broad array of consumer and industrial electronics. Japan has accused China of using its power in the production chain for political retaliation.

In 2010, a Chinese trawler collided with Japanese coastguard vessels in the South China Sea, and Japan arrested the Chinese captain. In response, Premier Wen Jiabao refused to meet with Japanese officials at UN headquarters in New York, and threatened “further action” if Japan did not release the captain.

Weary and wary, Duterte takes China to task over South China Sea

Ultimately, the delivery of Chinese exports to Japanese trading firms was delayed, the firms said. China, however, denied an export ban was in place. After Japan released the captain later that month, exports resumed their normal schedule. However, the Japanese trade minister said his nation would begin seeking rare earth metals from Canada, Vietnam, and the US as a result of the incident.

South Korea: tourism reduced, businesses targeted

Beijing used economic coercion against Seoul in response to the decision to deploy the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) antimissile system in South Korea in 2016.

Beijing saw THAAD as targeting China, rather than as a way to deter or curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. China’s leadership felt the weapons compromised the country’s national security by monitoring its military activities.

China then embarked on an aggressive but unofficial campaign to suspend its tour groups from travelling to South Korea. As of December, the Chinese boycott had cost South Korea 7.5 trillion won (US$6.8 billion), according to the South Korean national assembly’s budget office.

Beijing also began to target the Seoul-based multinational conglomerate Lotte, after the company agreed to provide land for the deployment of THAAD. China has since fined the company over its advertising practices, and shut down a large number of its supermarkets in the country for fire-code violations.

Simultaneously, China has also intensified its customs inspections against South Korean companies.

It has banned certain imported products from Lotte, Dongwon, Samyang and L&P Cosmetics. It also limited the distribution of South Korean content, including movies and shows, according to a report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. South Korean celebrities also disappeared from Chinese television.

Norway: bilateral ties frozen

China froze diplomatic relations with Norway for six years after jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. The recipient of the peace prize is chosen each year by a committee in Oslo, Norway’s capital; the remaining Nobel Prizes are decided in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden.

The freeze in diplomatic relations put negotiations for a free-trade deal on hold, and hurt Norwegian salmon exports to China. Initially, Beijing imposed import restrictions on Norwegian salmon; in 2015, it imposed a strict ban on the grounds that the fish may carry diseases.

Philippines extricates warship from South China Sea shoal

Norway continued to criticise Beijing, signing a joint UN human rights council condemnation of China’s human rights abuses in 2016.

The two nations normalised diplomatic ties in 2016, and announced their intention to negotiate a free trade deal. At the time, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende told the South China Morning Post that China and Norway had spent three years in talks before relations could be restored.

The Philippines: customs inspections increased

The Philippines reported that Beijing had stopped buying its bananas in 2012 after the Scarborough Shoals maritime dispute.

Beijing customs officials began inspecting Philippines bananas for “harmful organisms” in March of 2012, just before a conflict over the cluster of reefs in the South China Sea began. In April, the US and the Philippines conducted joint military exercises simulating an island assault, but said the drills were unrelated to the Scarborough Shoals dispute.

In May the Chinese foreign ministry demanded a “clear and unified signal about bilateral relations” and said it hoped the Philippines would take steps to repair relations.

Tensions continued when the Philippines brought a case against China in The Hague in 2013 for its territorial claims in the South China Sea, and received a favourable ruling in July 2016.

That year, China destroyed 35 tonnes of bananas worth over US$30,000 from the Philippines due to what it called “excessive use of pesticide”.

Additional reporting by Lee Jeong-ho