US treatment of Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize angers China

China is leading a 19-nation boycott of Friday's ceremony awarding jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize. It says calls to free Liu amount to meddling in its internal affairs.

John McConnico/AP
Protestors shout for the freedom of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo Thursday outside the Chinese embassy in Oslo, Norway. On Friday Mr. Lui will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

As China stokes the controversy swirling around Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, last year’s recipient is remaining coy about how he intends to mark the day.

President Barack Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is so far not revealing his intentions in terms of acknowledging the official awarding of the Nobel to the pro-democracy advocate – who remains in prison and thus will not be able to accept his prize in person.

White House officials have noted that the president issued a statement congratulating Mr. Liu when the award was announced in October. And they have hinted that Mr. Obama will mark the award’s official bestowal in some fashion.

The US will be represented at the awards ceremony in Oslo by Barry White, the US ambassador to Norway. Liu will be represented by an empty chair.

At one point last month the White House suggested it would like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to represent the US at the ceremony, but a full agenda in Congress’s lame-duck session and Speaker Pelosi’s desire to guide the final action of the current House appears to have nixed that plan.

Still, the House managed to pique China’s ire by passing a resolution on Tuesday congratulating Liu on his prize. Reading the resolution, Pelosi said that by recognizing Liu, the House was also “sending a clear message of support for human rights and democracy in China.” She added that “We do this in recognition of the importance of the relationship between China and the United States,” a relationship she said “is better served by candor in our friendship and not ignoring sore spots.”

China has made clear that it does indeed consider any honoring of Liu – whom the Chinese government considers a criminal – as a sore spot in its relations with other countries. From Beijing’s perspective, recognizing or expressing concern for a criminal duly convicted of subversion in the country’s judicial system is meddlesome.

China’s ire with the US over Liu and other Chinese dissidents dates from well before Liu’s receipt of the Nobel, as State Department cables released recently by WikiLeaks demonstrate.

In one of the cables, the US ambassador to Beijing, Jon Huntsman, reported that he was berated by Chinese officials for having written to the Chinese foreign minister expressing support for Liu. The cable said the Chinese told Ambassador Huntsman that the US must “cease using human rights as an excuse to ‘meddle’ in China’s internal affairs.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added her voice to calls for Liu's release on Thursday. Criticized for not attending the ceremony, which falls on UN Human Rights Day, Ms. Pillay said Liu's plight illustrates the dangers and abuse to which human rights defenders around the world are subject.

In the hours before the prize’s bestowal, China is boasting that more than 100 countries and organizations are supporting its call for a boycott of the ceremony. Among the countries taking China’s side are India and Serbia – the latter particularly sympathetic to China’s call for support on the grounds that the prize is a form of foreign intervention in its internal matters.

Serbia is still smarting over the outside world’s involvement in the Balkans conflict.

Some human rights activists say they will be watching Obama’s recognition – or lack thereof – of Liu’s prize ceremony Friday for any signs of the administration avoiding controversy with China in the run-up to President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington in January.

But some Obama supporters say they do not expect the president to go soft on China. They note that he did not shy away from initiating a blunt telephone conversation with President Hu earlier this week focused on the tougher stance Obama believes China should be taking with its neighbor and ally, North Korea.

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