How to avoid your treaty obligations in one easy step: lessons from China

It is difficult to overstate the egregiousness of the Chinese government’s latest move against Gui Minhai, the Swedish writer and bookseller kidnapped by Chinese agents in Thailand and brought to China to be punished for putting out material displeasing to China. The latest development in his case is that he has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence to overseas entities.” The chutzpah of this charge is remarkable, since at no time since he was forcibly brought to China has he been in a position to have access to the kind of information protected by the law. But even more remarkable is the dodge used by the Chinese government to deprive him of consular access — something it is obliged to allow under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which China and Sweden are both signatories, and very likely under a bilateral consular agreement (although I haven’t checked the latter). [MARCH 1, 2020 UPDATE: I am informed that there is no bilateral consular agreement between China and Sweden.] The dodge is that China claims that in 2018 Gui applied for, and was granted, a restoration of his Chinese citizenship.

This is problematic for all kinds of reasons. First, of course, is the obvious: how do we know? China will now presumably not let the Swedes ask him if this is true, because — wait for it — they will say he’s not entitled to consular access: a perfect Catch-22. Second, even if Gui has become a Chinese citizen, it does not follow that he stopped being a Swedish citizen. There is a process for renouncing Swedish citizenship, and Gui has not used it. If Gui desires to be a citizen of China only, and to renounce Swedish citizenship, it’s hard to see why China can’t let him see Swedish officials to make his desires known. Therefore, he is still a Swedish citizen and he should still be entitled to consular access. Although the Chinese government has claimed the right and power to decide matters belonging to the spirit world — that is, who is the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama — it is a step further to claim the right to decide who is or is not a Swedish citizen.

Consider what the Chinese government is claiming here: that anyone under its control, of any nationality, can be unilaterally declared a Chinese citizen and stripped of their rights as a foreign citizen, without ever appearing before anyone not under the control of the Chinese government to confirm that that is what they really want. Are other governments in the world really willing to accept this? Given that the Chinese government has not suffered a lot for its hostage-taking in the Kovrig-Spavor case, perhaps they are. One wonders where the bottom line is, if it exists at all.

Here is Jerry Cohen’s take — well worth reading. Let’s just say he does not approve.

1 thought on “How to avoid your treaty obligations in one easy step: lessons from China”

  1. It is quite unlikely that Sweden will do anything relevant. Ericsson has too much investment in china. ericsson has kotowed so much china without any concer of IP theft

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