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International relations

Swedish king cancels China visit, palace cites domestic reasons

Swedish citizen Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai detained for over 3 years

Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf has a key role to play in the formation of a new government   © Reuters

HONG KONG (Kyodo) -- Sweden's king has canceled a trip to China as his presence at home is required to help form a new government, the country's Royal Court said Tuesday, in the wake of media reports linking the move to China's continued detention of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen.

Gui, one of five Hong Kong booksellers who vanished mysteriously in October 2015 after being accused of selling banned titles in China, has been detained since October 2015, except for brief period last year, and Sweden has been calling for his release.

Noting that King Carl XVI Gustaf has a key role to play in the formation of a new government in Sweden, Royal Court spokeswomen Ulrika Nasholm said by email that he "is at the moment not able to travel for longer periods of time until the formation process has been concluded and a new government takes office."

The Swedish Consulate General in Hong Kong said the Royal Technology Mission, a delegation of business and academic representatives that planned to visit Hong Kong and Shenzhen with the king from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1, would proceed without him.

Swedish public broadcaster SVT reported, however, that the king's decision to cancel the trip also had to do with a "complicated bargaining game between Sweden and China" for Gui's possible release.

It said the Swedish Foreign Ministry and Royal Court had wanted to his China visit conducted while there was a clear process under way for his early release.

But amid the sensitive negotiations, China's Ambassador to Sweden Gui Congyou sparked uncertainty this week by attacking Gui in local media and citing "a political agenda behind the criticism" of China relating to the case.

Gui, who owned a bookstore that published and sold gossipy titles about Chinese leaders, was allegedly abducted by Chinese agents in October 2015 while holidaying in Thailand.

After his official release from detention in October 2017, Gui was seized again in January aboard a Beijing-bound train while accompanied by Swedish diplomats who were said to be taking him to seek medical treatment abroad.

He then appeared in a staged interview with a selected number of Hong Kong media, in which he denied being ill, blamed Swedish authorities for his ordeal and declining further assistance from them.

Sweden has continued to call for his freedom, however.

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