May 14, 2018

The EU is signaling that it will continue to pressure China for the release of Gui Minhai and Liu Xia


Gui Minhai, with his young daughter Angela, in happier days.

According to an Associated Press story that circulated widely last week, Donald Trump’s recent, stupid decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal will not spell the end of that arrangement: rather, our cheese-bleuing, wind-milling, lute-fisking friends in the European Union intend to keep it together. Which is great (or which, at least, seems to indicate some respect for the baselines of the global order the EU is designed to maintain).

That news took the form of comments made on Europe Day (that’s right, mom and dad each have a day, and so does Europe) by the EU’s ambassador to China, Austrian diplomat Hans Dietmar Schweisgut. But buried way below the fold in that story was an item of more immediate concern to the international literary community, and, indeed, the global book trade:

In response to questions about China’s human rights record, Schweisgut said the EU will continue to raise the cases of Gui Minhai, a Swedish bookseller detained in China, and Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.

A report by Spain’s Agencia EFE fleshes out Schweisgut’s comments a little further. “We will see a solution soon, because in one case there is no indication of infringement and in the other we talk about a community citizen whose rights are not being respected,” he is quoted as saying. The story continues:

Schweisgut said that these two cases are not the only human rights cases that the European Union has raised with Beijing, since there are also human rights lawyers being detained.

“All of those cases are of great concern because they are not in accordance with even Chinese laws and Constitution” added Schweisgut, highlighting that these issues have been raised in many meetings with the Chinese authorities and will continue to be part of EU policy towards China.

We laid out the basics of Gui’s case back in October, on the second anniversary of his incarceration:

Two years ago today, Gui Minhai, a Swedish publisher and co-owner of Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Books, disappeared from his vacation home in Thailand.

Gui was one of five men associated with Causeway Bay to go missing. All of them later turned up in state custody in the People’s Republic of China; today, only Gui remains in custody. As we noted last year:

“Since his abduction last fall, Gui has periodically been heard from: he has made phone calls to his wife and the housekeeping staff at his apartment complex, and in mid-January delivered a tearful—and obviously staged—apology on Chinese state television, claiming that he had voluntarily returned to China to accept responsibility for violating a probation agreement related to a fatal drunk-driving accident in 2005. Gui’s passport, however, was never stamped in traveling from Thailand to China, and he never mentioned an upcoming trip in conversations with friends and family.”

A few days after we published that, China announced it had “released” Gui, though he apparently remained under house arrest and unable to travel or communicate freely. Then in January, horrifically, China extralegally apprehended him a second time, while he was traveling to Beijing under Swedish diplomatic guard to seek medical treatment following a recent diagnosis of ALS. He has since been held incommunicado (save one more obviously coerced TV “confession”), as international clamor for his release builds, and friends at home in Sweden and around the world grow increasingly desperate.

Liu Xia with her late husband, dissident writer Liu Xiaobo.

We have written considerably on Liu as well. Liu, a poet, has been under house arrest since the death last year of her husbandNobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. Almost immediately thereafter, worldwide concern for her wellbeing began mounting. (We’ve written on China’s recent history of unlawful house arrests here.) It reached feverish intensity earlier this month, when Chinese dissident writer Liao Liwu, living in exile in Germany, released a recent letter from Liu, in which she writes:

“There is nothing I fear now. If I can’t leave, I’ll just die at home. Xiaobo has already left, there is nothing in this world for me. Dying is easier than living — there is nothing simpler for me than to protest with death.”

Liao says Liu has been driven “to the brink of mental collapse.”

For now, Washington and Beijing appear to share a single agenda for China: smoothing the flow of capital. The history of US foreign policy abounds in what international norms regard euphemistically as “unconscionable bullshit,” but in the past we’ve at least tried to balance the optics with some torch-waving talk of universal human rights. It’s certainly a shame to see this radioactive zombie-flower of a president pursuing the unconscionability at full clip, while his friends—ahem, sorry, while his business associates—jail poets and publishers without charge in full public view. Thanks to Europe for picking up the slack. And hey guys, if you find a torch lying around somewhere in the Atlantic, we, uh… we think we may have dropped it.



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.