by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: CCTV
A HARROWING experience recently related by Angela Gui in a blog post regarding her kidnapped father should be well noted in Taiwan. Gui, 24, is the daughter of Gui Minhai, one of five Hong Kong booksellers who published books critical of China who were “disappeared” by China and is currently a Ph. D candidate in history. Namely, Angela Gui’s experiences point to how China’s general modus operandi regarding individuals it has kidnapped, reminding strongly of the experiences of Lee Ching-yu, the wife of kidnapped Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che.
In a blog post on Medium, Gui detailed being contacted by Sweden’s ambassador to China, Anna Lindstedt, whom she had previously been in contact with. Lindstedt stated to Gui that there was a “new approach” to her father’s case and asked her to travel to Stockholm, Sweden. Both Gui and her father are Swedish nationals.
After arriving in Stockholm, Gui was invited to meet with two Chinese businessmen that Lindstedt claimed might be able to help secure her father’s release, who were accompanied by well-known Swedish China scholars. However, according to Gui, the two businessmen were vague regarding how exactly they could help Gui Minhai.
Instead, Gui was asked a number of questions about her personal life while a great deal of wine was provided. At one point, one of the businessmen stated that he thought she had “potential” and that she could perhaps get Gui a job working with them in China.
Gui was made to stay two days and the meeting was conducted inside high-security premises. The next day in another meeting with the two businessmen, Gui was told that one of the businessmen had gone to the Chinese embassy to negotiate on her behalf, then informed that if she stayed quiet about her father’s detention, he could potentially be released a few years later, claiming that Gui should prevent the publication of any new press about her father’s kidnapping.
In the course of this meeting, in return for their aid, Lindstedt, the Swedish ambassador also promised to apologize for a previous incident involving Chinese tourists removed from a hotel mocked on a Swedish comedy show. Gui, in the meantime, was furious that Lindstedt had decided unilaterally that the best course of action regarding her father’s kidnapping was to negotiate under the table with these two Chinese businessmen.
As a result, after leaving the meeting, Gui went public with her story. Lindstedt has since been recalled to Sweden for questioning. According to Gui, Swedish diplomatic officials were unaware of Lindstedt acting on her own, not having even known that she had returned to Sweden.
Yet it has been China’s longstanding practice to try to silence relatives and family members of individuals it kidnaps by conducting under the table negotiations through intermediaries. This goes back decades, seeing as this was how China usually negotiated regarding Taiwanese that it kidnapped before the diplomatic thaw before the KMT and CCP that took place in the 1990s and 2000s. China usually claims that it will release individuals it has kidnapped faster if family members agree to cease advocating publicly for their release.
One has seen a recent example of this phenomenon with Taiwanese human rights advocate and former DPP staffer Lee Ming-che. Lee was detained after crossing into China from Macau in late 2017 and has been imprisoned by China for over two years on charges of attempting to subvert state authority. Lee may have been detained because of efforts by him to share information regarding Taiwan’s democratization with Chinese friends.
At one point in late 2017, Lee Ching-yu—Lee Ming-che’s wife, who has been tireless in advocating for her husband’s release—was approached by a Taiwanese man named Lee Chun-min. Lee was himself someone who had spent decades detained by Chinese authorities after being imprisoned for spying by China in 1994. Lee Chun-min claimed to be acting as a “broker” on behalf of the CCP and stated that he could help secure Lee’s release much faster if Lee Ching-yu agreed to cease efforts to draw public attention to her husband’s detention.
Much like Gui, Lee refused and went public with the story. It is suspected by some that Alex Tsai of the KMT might have had a hand in arranging for Lee Chun-min to serve as an intermediary with China, seeing as Lee was formerly Tsai’s assistant.
Nevertheless, the incident did provoke some splits within the Lee family, with Lee Ming-che’s mother calling on her son to “apologize to the Chinese motherland”. Lee Ching-yu later made the comment that Lee’s mother shares different political views from herself and her husband; it is thought that the Lee family may be split between pan-Green and pan-Blue political views.
As such, it is very probable that China is simply carrying out longstanding practices regarding how it treats the family members of individuals it has kidnapped and attempts to negotiate with them. This can be seen with regards to both Gui and Lee. But it proves worrisome, whether in Taiwan or Sweden, that the CCP it is able to convince some members of government to go along with its ploys. It remains to be seen what actions will be taken against this, if any, in both places.