By Christopher Bodeen
The Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — China’s campaign to vilify this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and sabotage the award ceremony showed signs of backfiring on Thursday, Dec. 9, as criticism of Beijing rose and the imprisoned Chinese dissident seemed to be turning into a celebrity.
While China has successfully pressured more than a dozen countries not to attend Friday’s ceremony to honor Liu Xiaobo and began blocking foreign media coverage of the event on the Internet, analysts said its efforts also appeared to be galvanizing the West, reminding democracies of the gulf between them and Beijing.
Despite the criticism of Beijing’s response, China remains too big and important to be shunned for long. Its role as the world’s factory floor and banker to the West rules out both political and economic retaliation.
The high-pressure tactics continued unabated Thursday, the same day China handed out its newly inaugurated Confucius Peace Prize — hastily created as a riposte to the Nobel.
Amnesty International said members of Norway’s Chinese community were being pressured by Chinese diplomats to join anti-Nobel protests planned for Friday and had been threatened with retaliation if they failed to appear. Instead, about 100 supporters of Liu marched to the Chinese Embassy in Oslo on Thursday, but were turned away before they could hand over a petition demanding his release.
In China, Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, and dozens of friends, colleagues, and sympathizers are under house arrest or tight surveillance to prevent them from attending the ceremony. Attempts to reach them by phone were met with messages saying their numbers didn’t exist.
Liu, a 54-year-old literary critic and democracy advocate, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion handed down last year after he co-authored a bold appeal for human rights and political reform. Previously almost unknown even within China, he has in recent weeks been transformed into a cause-celebre among global rights activists and a source of curiosity to young, Internet-savvy Chinese.
Several news websites, including the BBC’s and Norwegian broadcaster NRK’s, were blocked in China on Thursday, apparently to blot out coverage of the ceremony. Some Nobel-related reports on CNN’s website were also inaccessible.
But this campaign has taken a toll on China’s efforts to win foreign friends by projecting a more mild image of the country through foreign aid, investment, media, and educational exchanges.
Li Heping, a civil rights lawyer, said the government’s harsh reaction to the prize was an eye-opener for the West.
“In the past, the West didn’t have a consensus on China. But this affair, this Nobel prize, has created one because it is linked with the West’s core values,” said Li, who was disbarred after pursuing human rights cases.
The U.S. Congress and prominent rights groups repeated their calls for Liu’s release, saying China’s actions violated both domestic laws and Beijing’s international commitments.
China’s “very public tantrum has generated even more critical attention inside and outside China and, ironically, emphasized the significance of Liu Xiaobo’s message of respect for human rights,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said in a statement Thursday.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley reaffirmed U.S. support for the award.
“We think there absolutely should be a ceremony. We think there absolutely should be recognition. We think that Mr. Liu and his wife should be there to be able to receive the award,” Crowley said at a Wednesday briefing.
While 18 governments — mostly close allies and fellow authoritarian states — have said they would not attend the ceremony in Oslo. The decision by the Philippines and Serbia to boycott the ceremony drew heated protests from human rights groups.
Questioned about China pressuring countries not to send representatives to the ceremony, the Foreign Ministry’s Jiang said attendance would be viewed as a sign of disrespect for China.
“We hope those countries that have received the invitation can tell right from wrong, uphold justice,” Jiang said at a regularly scheduled news conference.
On Thursday, in a chaotic ceremony, former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan was honored with the first Confucius Peace Prize — intended to put forth China’s idea of peace, the organization committee said.
Lien was absent and his aides seemed not to know anything about it. Instead, a small, unnamed, ponytailed girl accepted it on his behalf. It is not known what connection, if any, she had with Lien.
Tan Changliu, chairman of the awards committee, said the new prize should not be linked with the Nobel laureate.
“We don’t want to link this peace prize with those three words,” Tan said, referring to Liu Xiaobo’s name. ♦
Associated Press writer Tini Tran contributed to this report.