Scandinavian country urges the European Union to adopt a ‘common and clear’ stance to deal with China’s growing geopolitical ambitions in Europe. Paper comes with Sweden’s relations with China at the lowest ebb among all EU member nations.
Sweden unveiled a China strategy paper on Wednesday that illuminates the country’s concerns about Beijing-Moscow ties and urges the European Union to adopt a “common and clear” stance to “manage the challenges” posed by China’s growing geopolitical ambitions in Europe.
Published just a day after President Xi Jinping declared that “no force” could obstruct China’s advances, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the paper comes with Sweden’s relations with China at the lowest ebb among all EU member nations.
Former Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish national born in China, has spent much of the past four years in detention for publishing politically sensitive materials.
On top of that, the proliferation of Chinese investments across Europe is forcing Sweden a traditional advocate of free trade – to move towards considering a national investment screening mechanism.
Sweden’s strategy paper “calls for cooperation between the EU and the US in meeting security-related challenges stemming from China’s global rise”, said Bjorn Jerden, Asia programme head at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
China’s growing bond with the superpower in Sweden’s backyard Russia also is stoking concern among Stockholm politicians, according to the document.
“China’s relationship with Russia is developing, even if linked with uncertainty,”
said the paper, which the Swedish foreign ministry published after gathering input from the country’s major parliamentary party leaders.
“The relationship is bound together by a common interest in changing the international system for the benefit of both countries,” it said.
The paper also drew attention to Sweden’s concerns over China’s effort to gain “greater influence over the Arctic”. Last year, China moved to extend its massive infrastructure project, the Belt & Road Initiative, to the far north by developing shipping lanes that global warming has opened up in the polar region.
Dubbing the proposed new routes the “Polar Silk Road”, China said it would encourage enterprises to build infrastructure and conduct commercial trial voyages along Arctic shipping routes.
While stressing that Sweden will fall into line with the EU on an overall China strategy, the paper indirectly castigates the bloc for failing to come up with a comprehensive plan for handling the world’s second-largest economy.
“It is of central importance to Sweden that the EU conducts a common and clear policy on China,” it said, adding that the EU would need to explain how such a policy could be applied individually by different member states.
Notably, the paper offered no endorsement of the Belt & Road, President Xi’s signature project, Jergen said.
“The strategy on the whole points to several negative aspects of the [Belt & Road], but doesn’t mention it as an area from Sweden-China collaboration,” he said. “Sweden has all along been having a sceptical attitude toward the project.”
In this regard, the Swedish official is at odds with China’s ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, who in July told Swedish television that any move by Stockholm to join the Belt & Road would be “hugely conducive” to Chinese-Swedish relations.
Sweden concedes in the paper that bilateral relations with China are in poor shape, even though it was the first Western country to recognise the Communist power nearly seven decades ago.
“Sweden’s relations with China are adversely affected by a number of bilateral problems,” it said.
“One of these is the case of the imprisoned Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, where Chinese authorities, despite demands from the Swedish government, refuse to fulfil the obligations China has under international consular agreements, and refuse to comply with Swedish demands for Gui’s release.”
While calling for “more powerful cooperation” within the EU on handling China’s digital development, the paper did not mention Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies by name even when it referred to EU countries’ concerns over 5G development.
A diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some Swedish parliamentary party leaders were hesitant to mention Huawei during the consultative stage for the foreign ministry’s paper.
Huawei has been portrayed as a cybersecurity threat by the EU, which is conducting a risk assessment based on member states’ concerns about the company’s dominance and omnipresence in next-generation 5G mobile development across Europe.
Swedish telecoms supplier Ericsson also is a major player in the 5G infrastructure market, although Huawei leads the field globally in technological advancement.