What started as an airing of a poor travel experience for a few unlucky Chinese visitors to Stockholm, Sweden, has led to an official protest coming from Sweden’s Chinese embassy due to accusations of racism stemming from a Swedish TV station’s attempt at humor. Now, the purportedly racist episode, which was posted on China’s video-streaming service Youku, has led to widespread harassment efforts from Chinese netizens on Sweden’s official Facebook page.

The kerfuffle could threaten what had been a year of rapidly growing Chinese interest in travel to Sweden. Compared to other European nations, Sweden attracts relatively few Chinese tourists. It had, however, seen a 163 percent increase in Chinese tourist arrivals from 2009 to 2015, the most recent year for data released. The number of nights spent in Sweden by Chinese tourists increased 26.8 percent in 2015 from the previous year, according to the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth.

While Chinese travelers account for a small proportion of arrivals to Sweden, they have been a growing demographic

And while Sweden does not depend on Chinese tourists to support the industry, the country was one of the top 10 fastest growing destinations for Chinese tourist numbers in the first half of 2018, according to China Tourism Academy, the research arm of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The outrage on the Chinese side garnered international attention after a Chinese tourist, surnamed Zeng, and his parents had an unpleasant encounter with Swedish police when the trio attempted to check in to their hostel a day early and were told that there were no rooms available. Zeng’s documentation of the September 2 incident (from his perspective) went viral on Chinese social media and resulted in the Chinese embassy condemning the local police for their actions against the tourists.

Swedish police and the hostel have refuted Zeng’s claims of mistreatment.

The incident did not attract much attention outside of China until 10 days later when the Dalai Lama visited Malmö. Prior to these incidents, Chinese-Swedish citizen and book publisher Gui Minhai was arrested in China and has been detained since.

Meanwhile, some observers believe that the outrage from China to Zeng’s alleged mistreatment was retaliation for the Dalai Lama’s official visit.

On Sept. 21, the Swedish television channel SVT aired a segment on a comedy show called “Svenska Nyheter” (Swedish News)—supposedly to poke fun at the situation—but was accused of being racist for portraying negative Chinese stereotypes in the form of advice for Chinese travelers to Sweden. The Chinese embassy issued another statement condemning the segment and the show’s host, Jesper Rönndahl. That was followed by further condemnations from state-run media and by users of the social media site Weibo. The SVT program aired a follow-up on Monday in which Rönndahl did not apologize but did analyze the current diplomatic situation as well as China’s outrage over the previous segment. A representative from the show who was responsible for posting the allegedly-insensitive video to Youku issued an apology on Wednesday.

The Chinese embassy in Sweden and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have issued travel warnings

The Chinese embassy in Sweden and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have since issued travel warnings for citizens visiting the country. The ministry stated in its warning that “Since April, the Chinese Embassy in Sweden has received reports of theft [and] robbery…almost every day.” It added that Swedish police, however, have not reported any incidents.

On Sept. 25, Reddit user section_sign posted screenshots of Chinese netizens bragging on Weibo about harassing Sweden through the country’s official Facebook page.

The latest developments in the feud between the countries means Sweden’s tourism industry could take a hit, albeit not a significant one. And the longer the altercation continues, the greater the impact could be for the industry that raked in $36 billion in 2017.

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