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Chinese authorities silence friends of Liu Xiaobo in extensive roundup

China has gone to extraordinarily lengths to stop any of political prisoner Liu Xiaobo's friends or family from attending Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo.

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The Chinese authorities’ harsh response at home to Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel prize has been echoed in Beijing’s vitriolic international campaign against the Norwegian committee that chose Liu, and attempts to persuade governments not to attend Friday’s ceremony.

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Nobel committee staging an 'anti-Chinese farce'

“The committee is organizing an anti-Chinese farce” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said on Tuesday. “We will not change because of interference by a few clowns.”

The Chinese language media make no mention of Liu, the Chinese internet is scrubbed clean of his name and all his articles, and he is unknown to the vast majority of Chinese citizens. Government run papers published in English for foreigners’ consumption, however, have been unrelenting in their attacks on him and the Nobel prize committee.

“They see people like Liu Xiaobo as enemies of public order and they see public order as a necessary precondition for getting China out of poverty and for continuing to maintain the regime” explains Sidney Rittenberg, the first American to join the Chinese Communist party and who is intimately familiar with the Chinese political system. “To have this person feted internationally is a challenge and a humiliation that is not easy to put up with.”

The ferocity of Beijing’s rhetoric has surprised some observers.

“But in sensitive areas where they see a threat to the regime’s credibility, they seem to lose all sense of proportion,” says Michael Davis, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “And in those areas, the more hardline views are in the ascendant.”

“They can be extraordinarily vehement and crude,” adds Kenneth Lieberthal, a veteran China analyst at the University of Michigan, but in some respects that has paid off, he points out. Such allegedly close US allies as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan have said they will not send representatives to Friday’s ceremony, following Beijing’s wishes.

Elsewhere in the world, however, the angry language “is counterproductive” suggests Prof. Davis. “When people hear this coming out of China they see why Liu Xiaobo has got into such trouble and what is wrong with China, just by the extreme vitriol of the comments.”

“This has given fuel to a general wave of displeasure with China all over the world and that is not a good thing” either for China or for the world, argues Mr. Rittenberg, if global economic, climate, and other problems are to be solved.

For Li Datong, a newspaper editor sacked for publishing controversial articles, Beijing’s anger is merely an expression of its loss of face. But it also indicates a change in the government’s calculation of its global influence, he says.

“Once upon a time, Beijing made compromises because the government knew it needed help from abroad”, says Mr. Li. “Today, though, the government thinks it can afford this kind of behavior, that it will not damage Chinese interests.”

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