x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

China says 100 nations support it on Nobel peace prize

The Chinese insist that they have the support of more than 100 countries over its jailing of the dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is the winner of this year's Peace prize.

Nobel prize winners in economic sciences, physics and chemistry attend a press conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences yesterday in Stockholm.
Nobel prize winners in economic sciences, physics and chemistry attend a press conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences yesterday in Stockholm.

BEIJING // China yesterday claimed "the vast majority of the international community" would not send representatives to Friday's ceremony in Oslo, where the Nobel Peace Prize will be officially awarded to the jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Beijing insisted it had the support of more than 100 countries over its position on the peace prize and branded critics "clowns", as state media stepped up criticism of the Nobel committee.

The defiant stance has come as pressure on China has intensified, with the previous prize winners Desmond Tutu, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner, and Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, calling over the weekend for Mr Liu to be released.

Also over the weekend, nearly 1,000 people marched in Hong Kong in support of Mr Liu, who was jailed for a term of 11 years beginning late last year over the Charter 08 document he signed that proposed democratic reforms in China. His wife and a series of activists are said to be under house arrest.

The United States yesterday urged Beijing to release Mr Liu. Referring to the issue of human rights, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said: "this is an important subject matter between our two countries. "The United States continues to be concerned at the Chinese government's tight control of activities, and the people authorities in China deem threatening to the Communist Party," he added. "We hope that China will take positive steps on human rights including the release of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo," Steinberg stressed in an address on China at the Center for American Progress.

At a press briefing in Beijing yesterday, the ministry of foreign affairs spokeswoman Jiang Yu said "over 100 countries support us" on their position.

"You will see very clearly that the vast majority of the international community will not attend the ceremony," Ms Yu said of Friday's event.

"I would like to say to those at the Nobel committee, they're orchestrating an anti-China fuss by themselves. We're against anyone making an issue out of Liu Xiaobo and interfering with China's internal affairs.

"China's policies accord with the interests of the vast majority of people. We'll not change our position because of interference by a few clowns."

The Norwegian Nobel Committee yesterday said China and 18 other countries, including Russia and Pakistan, had declined invitations. The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, has been criticised for declining an invitation.

China has reportedly exerted diplomatic pressure on countries not to take part in, for example, trade talks with the host nation Norway.

Meanwhile, the state-run English-language Global Times newspaper yesterday said the prize "distances the West from China".

Kiyul Chung, an adjunct professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University, told the paper the prize was "a politically motivated demonising campaign led by the US against China" and that it "aims to weaken China's global standing by any means necessary".

According to Jin Canrong, the deputy director of the school of international studies at Renmin University, "the Nobel prizes are gradually becoming a tool of the West".

A letter writer in yesterday's China Daily described the prize as "a disgrace to the memory of Alfred Nobel" by a "hypocritical and politically biased" Nobel committee.

Their comments contrast with commentary in western media.

Writing in The Observer newspaper in the UK on Sunday, Mr Tutu and Mr Havel criticised China for its support of "abusive regimes" and for the "brutal force" with which it stifles dissent.

They said "substantial reform is needed if China is to be viewed within the international community as a true leader".

Some analysts have said China's policy of branding the awarding of the prize as western meddling means the impact of the prize on the mainland may be limited.

They have also pointed out that the prize causes difficulties to western nations that support Mr Liu's cause, but do not wish to upset an increasingly powerful and assertive China.

Many countries have, however, resisted pressure not to send representatives.

Among them South Korea, which, despite listing China as its largest trading partner, announced this week that it was sending its ambassador to Norway to the event.

According to Ding Xueliang, a foreign affairs specialist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Beijing has harmed its international reputation by what some have perceived as an aggressive stance over the prize.

If China had maintained silence, he said, the prize would have received less coverage.

"You have people like Archbishop Tutu, who is held in such high international respect [supporting Mr Liu]," he said.

"You cannot say Archbishop Tutu is a running dog of western imperialism. The Chinese government's reputation is damaged."

Describing the award of the prize to Mr Liu as "a very meaningful act", Joseph Cheng, a professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong, said there was "considerable sympathy" for Mr Liu among educated Chinese. But, he said, "most Chinese people do not want to challenge the status quo.

"The status quo has brought them economic growth," he said. "They're happy with the improvement in living standards, so there's no incentive to change the communist regime."

Among those performing at the ceremony will be the American singer Barry Manilow, who told the Las Vegas Weekly he would be making a gesture of solidarity with Mr Liu.

"It will be highly emotional … The Nobel prize winner is still imprisoned, along with his wife, and so his absence will be marked simply by an empty chair onstage alone with me," he said.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

* Agence France-Presse