The visit to China and Hong Kong was arranged by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) and takes place between November 25th and December 1st. But the king did not join the delegation, Dagens Industri was first to report.
“The reason is Sweden's situation in regard to government-building,” said the Royal Court's press chief, Margareta Thorgren, referring to the fact that over two months since elections, Sweden is still being run by a caretaker administration. “With regard to all overseas trips, we have consultation and dialogue with the foreign ministry and in this case the decision is that the king will not go.”
As head of state, the king plays a key role in the formation of government in Sweden, and has had several meetings with the parliamentary speaker over the past week, with more talks planned for this week.
However, Swedish broadcaster SVT has said that the cancellation was partly linked to “sensitive negotiations” relating to the imprisonment of Swedish-Chinese author Gui Minhai.
Gui was one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers – known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders – who disappeared in 2015 (while he was on holiday in Thailand) and resurfaced in mainland China. He was released in October 2017, but was arrested again on a train to Beijing in January while travelling with two Swedish diplomats.
Swedish authorities, as well as the EU and several human rights' organizations, have called for Gui's release, but neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Royal Court would confirm to SVT or TT whether this was a factor in the cancellation of the king's trip.
SVT reports that the Foreign Ministry and Royal Court had “wanted to get a clear process for [Gui's] release in the near future underway in order for the king to carry out his visit to China”. In an interview with Svenska Dagbladet this week, the Chinese ambassador in Stockholm Gui Congyou reiterated attacks on the bookseller, saying there was “a political agenda behind the criticism” of China relating to the case.
While the king will be involved with the formation of Sweden's next government, there is no formal requirement for him to remain in the country until a government is formed. With the next prime ministerial vote set for no earlier than December 5th, any cabinet meetings requiring the head of state's presence would not be held until at least a day after that.
Thorgren confirmed that the king had carried out multiple overseas trips during the autumn, but added: “These were of a shorter nature, and the schedule planners at the court have had a constant level of preparedness. The fact the king isn't participating in this trip is due to it being very far away and lasting a whole week.”