After eight years under house arrest, Liu Xia, the widow of the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, was finally released by the Chinese government on medical parole and allowed to go to Germany on July 10.
Liu Xia’s brother, Liu Hui, who was framed for fraud and sent to jail in 2013, but who was later released, wasn’t allowed to accompany his sister to Germany.
It is believed that the Communist Party is holding her brother hostage in order to ensure her silence in front of global media after she arrives in the West.
But regardless of what happens to her brother, Liu Xia’s leaving for Germany is no doubt a one-way ticket to freedom.
That Liu was suddenly set free and allowed to leave the country following Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s recent official visit to Germany is hardly a coincidence.
In my opinion, there could have been several contributing factors behind Liu Xia’s “July 10 redemption”, namely, the humanitarian compassion of Western governments, NGOs and the international cultural community, as well as the recent turn of events in international politics.
Ever since Liu Xia was placed under house arrest and 24-hour surveillance by Chinese authorities in 2010, the Western world, particularly the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have been tirelessly urging Beijing to set her free.
And over the past several months, both the OHCHR and the German government have been stepping up their efforts in seeking Liu’s release.
On July 4, the OHCHR issued a statement concerning Liu, in which it said, “We are disturbed by reports of the deteriorating health of Liu Xia. She is reportedly physically restricted at an unknown location and suffers from severe psychological distress.”
The OHCHR also reiterated in its statement that since Liu Xia had never committed or been convicted of any criminal activity, she should be allowed to “seek medical and psychiatric treatment freely and wherever she wishes, including foreign countries”.
In the meantime, hot on the heels of the UN statement came the latest round of Sino-German human rights talks.
On July 9, Premier Li Keqiang met with Chancellor Merkel in Berlin.
Even though their joint communique was mainly focused on trade cooperation, the pledge to uphold multilateralism and their opposition to trade war, it was widely believed that the two leaders also touched on human rights issues during their meeting.
And then on the following day, Liu Xia was released and allowed to go to Germany.
Suffice it to say that Merkel’s persistent concern about the human rights condition in China, her burning drive to improve human rights around the world, as well as her suggestion of inviting Liu Xia to Germany to treat her illness have all played a key part in facilitating her final release.
On the other hand, like his predecessor Wen Jiabao, Premier Li has been working aggressively to boost ties with Germany over the past several years, and been able to maintain a good relationship with Merkel.
Besides, both Wen and Li are relatively more open-minded and less tough towards dissenting voices. Li might have lobbied President Xi Jinping to let Liu go.
In fact, Sino-German human rights talks have made little progress over the years.
However, the worsening ties and escalating trade war between China and the US in recent months have prompted Beijing to consolidate its relations with Europe amid Washington’s onslaught, and hence the decision to release Liu as a token of goodwill.
In the eyes of Beijing, allowing Liu Xia to go is just a minor concession compared to the pressing need to win over Europe against the US and convince European leaders to uphold the “WTO framework”.
But, of course, there must have been some sort of conditions attached to Liu’s release. For example, the German government or the NGOs which received her must advise Liu to adopt a low-profile in the days ahead.
If anything, Liu Xia’s ordeal has once again highlighted the injustice of the “one-party dictatorship” in China.
And Beijing’s relentless persecution of her late husband and then her is strongly reminiscent of the “Maoist” style of collective punishment against dissidents and their families that was so rampant across China during his reign.
As the mainland is witnessing a massive return to the ultra-leftist track under President Xi in recent years, the Communist Party is once again resorting to “Maoist class struggle” in its nationwide crackdown on dissent.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 12
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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