China pressuring European envoys over Nobel event

AP, OSLO

Fri, Nov 05, 2010 - Page 1

China is pressuring European governments to avoid the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for imprisoned democracy activist Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) and not to make any statements in support of him, several diplomats said yesterday.

The Chinese embassy in Oslo has sent official letters to a number of European embassies in the Norwegian capital asking them not to attend the Dec. 10 ceremony, two Western diplomats said.

Finland’s foreign ministry confirmed its embassy in Oslo had received such a letter, but officials could not immediately provide details.

According to one of the diplomats who said he has seen the letter, China cited its repeated position that Liu is a criminal for his advocacy of widespread political reforms and called the prize an interference in China’s internal affairs.

The letter also urged embassies not to issue any public statements in support of Liu on the day of the ceremony, he said.

Liu, a writer and outspoken government critic, is serving an 11-year prison term for inciting subversion with Charter ‘08, a bold call for sweeping political reforms that he co-authored. His wife has been under house arrest since the award was announced last month.

Numerous world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, as well as international rights groups have called for Liu’s release. That has enraged China, which has been waging a campaign through state media to criticize both Liu and the prize.

In Beijing in the last couple of weeks, diplomats from several countries have been called into meetings with Chinese officials, who made similar requests to the letters issued to the embassies in Oslo, the first Western diplomat said.

“They have been quietly getting in touch, inviting people to small meetings and passing the message that way,” the envoy said.

A second Western diplomat confirmed the letter.

Another diplomat from a European country said his country had not been asked to avoid the event, but he was aware of several other nations that had been approached.

“There is pressure on this,” he said.

All three diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, declined to comment on the letter, but said it’s up to the ambassadors to decide whether to attend the ceremony at Oslo’s City Hall.

He said more than 1,000 invitations had been sent out, including to all ambassadors to Norway. Even the Chinese ambassador received an invitation, but returned it without answering, Lundestad said.

“All mail we have sent to the Chinese embassy in Oslo has been returned unopened,” he said.

It’s unclear who will accept the prize on Liu’s behalf, but “people close to the laureate” have conveyed his wish that a children’s choir perform at the ceremony, Lundestad said.

Arrangements were being made for that, he added.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) refused to confirm or deny that China had sent the letters.

“Our opposition to the awarding of the peace prize to Liu Xiaobo is clear. We oppose anyone making an issue out of this,” Hong told a regularly scheduled news conference.