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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A series of diplomatic incidents has undone decades of work building Sweden-China relations.

Why it matters: Beijing's bullying behavior is a test case in how China treats less powerful countries that refuse to submit to its demands.

What's happening: Rising distrust has led Sweden to shut down cultural exchanges and other long-standing agreements.

  • Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden, has canceled its friendship city agreement with Shanghai, which was first signed 34 years ago. Several other cities, including Västerås, Luleå, and Linköping, have also ended their relationships with Chinese cities.
  • Sweden closed all of its Confucius Institutes, a Chinese government-funded program that sets up Chinese language and culture centers in foreign universities but which has come under scrutiny for censoring discussion of topics that Beijing considers sensitive.

Background: The breakdown in relations began in 2015, when Chinese authorities kidnapped Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen known for publishing books on sensitive Chinese political topics, and held him without trial for years.

  • The Swedish government expressed outrage in February when a Chinese court announced that Gui had renounced his Swedish citizenship on a supposedly voluntary basis, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
  • The case demonstrated a blatant disregard for international norms of citizenship and the rights of foreign governments to protect their citizens.

The Chinese ambassador to Sweden has threatened Swedish media outlets who reported critically on China, and implicitly threatened anyone who opposed Beijing.

  • “We treat our friends with fine wine, but for our enemies we have shotguns," said the ambassador on Swedish public radio in November 2019.

The bottom line: The Chinese Communist Party has hailed China's rise as a kinder, gentler world power that will deal with all countries with respect. But so far, its treatment of smaller nations is not reassuring.

Go deeper

Updated Aug 5, 2020 - World

China says U.S. is "endangering peace" with high-level visit to Taiwan

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a June briefing in Washington, D.C. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Tuesday night he will lead a delegation to Taiwan "in the coming days."

Why it matters: It's the highest-level visit by a U.S. cabinet official to Taiwan since 1979. Azar is also the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit the island state in six years. The visit has angered China, which views Taiwan as part of its territory. Chinese officials accused the U.S. Wednesday of "endangering peace" with the visit, AFP reports.

Updated 4 hours ago - World

Over 3,000 detained in protests across Russia demanding Navalny's release

Russian police officers beat protestesters at a rally against of jailing of oppositon leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Saturday. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Police in Russia on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail.

Details: Demonstrations began in the eastern regions of Russia and spread west to more than 60 cities.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of the Trump-endorsed Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.

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