Why can’t Beijing just go easy on Liu Xia?

July 21, 2017 11:03
After Liu Xiaobo died, international attention has shifted to the well-being and freedom of his widow, Liu Xia. Photo: Reuters

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo has passed away, but his spirit and legacy continue to live on not only among the Chinese people but in the international community as well.

The Economist ran a cover story titled Liu Xiaobo, China’s Conscience, on July 15, praising him for his lifelong devotion to the cause of democracy and human rights in China.

Carrie Gracie, chief editor of the BBC's China news section, wrote an article titled The Man China Couldn’t Erase, in which she said “while Beijing continues to intimidate, persecute and punish those who follow Liu’s lead, it will not erase the memory of its Nobel prize winner any more than Nazi Germany erased its shame 81 years ago.”

(Editor’s note: In 1935, Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while he was jailed in a concentration camp. However, the Nazis prohibited any of his family members from collecting the award on his behalf, and banned all public mention of him in society.)

After Liu died of liver cancer in state custody, international attention has now shifted to the well-being and freedom of his widow, Liu Xia.

Government leaders, renowned politicians and human rights organizations from around the world have expressed their concerns about Liu Xia’s physical and mental well-being, and urged Beijing to allow her to leave the country if she wishes.

In an official statement, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it was “deeply worried about Liu Xia’s situation” and called on the Chinese authorities to “lift all restrictions they have put upon her”.

Also, the German and Australian foreign ministers have spoken out about Liu Xia and strongly urged the Chinese government to free her.

US President Donald Trump was probably the only major Western leader who avoided the issue altogether.

During his recent state visit to France, when Liu was dying in hospital, Trump appeared to be more interested in complimenting the French first lady on her body shape than commenting on Liu. All he said at the press conference was that Chinese President Xi Jinping is “a great leader”.

Many Americans were dismayed at their president’s evasive stance on Liu. In a recent article, seasoned New York Times journalist Chris Buckley wrote that compared to the outspoken German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has continued to speak up for Liu and his wife over the years even if she might risk angering Beijing, Trump simply has had no backbone on the matter.

Thanks to Trump’s kissing up to Beijing, Buckley said, the United States has lost its traditional role as “an international champion of human rights”.

In my opinion, the fact that Liu Xia, who is a poet and has never been a social activist throughout her life like her late husband, has been held under house arrest without charges and subject to 24-hour surveillance since 2010, constitutes a complete violation of the set of civil rights to which every Chinese citizen is entitled under the constitution of the People’s Republic of China as well as its Criminal Prosecution Ordinance.

Article 39 of the 1982 Constitution stipulates that “the freedom of movement of any law-abiding Chinese citizen shall not be infringed”. And Article 252 of the Criminal Prosecution Ordinance states that “any act of violating the freedom of communication of any law-abiding Chinese citizen is strictly prohibited”.

Unfortunately, all these civil rights guaranteed by China’s constitution and statute law have taken a backseat to Beijing’s excuse to “maintain internal stability”.

Worse still, Liu Xia has remained unaccounted for and never returned to her home in Beijing since the death of her husband, arousing widespread suspicion that she was probably being held in custody by the authorities somewhere else.

In the past, the Communist Party used to be more lenient and often allowed renowned dissidents to “go into exile” amid diplomatic pressure from Western powers.

The late Professor Fang Lizhi, the famous physicist and dissident who was often referred to as “China’s Sakharov”, was “sent into exile” along with his wife by then Chinese leader Jiang Zemin to the US in 1990 under Washington’s pressure.

Then there was the renowned and blind civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who sought asylum in the American Embassy in Beijing back in 2011, and who was eventually allowed to leave China for the US by former president Hu Jintao.

Unfortunately, as the current paramount leader Xi Jinping’s nationwide crackdown on dissent has continued to escalate and the mainland has witnessed a massive return to the leftist track under his rule, the prospect of Liu Xia being set free is getting increasingly slim.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 20

Translation by Alan Lee with addtional reporting 

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist