ABC News' Sherisse Pham reports:
Washington support for Nobel Peace Prize winner and jailed human rights activist Liu Xiaobo flowed from the highest branches of office Friday. President Obama said in a statement, “Mr. Liu Xiaobo is far more deserving of this award than I was.”
The president added that the U.S. respects China’s ‘extraordinary’ accomplishment of lifting millions from poverty, and that human rights includes the dignity that comes with freedom from want.
“But,” Obama continued, “Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.”
Secretary of State’s statement echoed the call for Liu’s release, and urged China to again revisit its human rights policy.
“We urge China to uphold its international human rights obligations and to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all Chinese citizens,” said Clinton.
With Liu Xiaobo imprisoned and his wife Liu Xia under house arrest, no one travelled to Norway to accept the prize. Instead, an empty chair represented Liu’s absence in Oslo. The last time a representative of the winner was absent from the ceremony was in 1935, when Hitler forbid that year’s winner Count Carl von Ossietzky, and anyone else from Germany, from attending.
Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did attend Friday’s ceremony, in one of her last acts as speaker of the House. Pelosi has been a long-time advocate for human rights in China; in 1991 she unfurled a bilingual pro-democracy sign in Tiananmen Square, Beijing to mark the army’s killing of protestors two years earlier. In May 2009 – more than a year and a half before he would be awarded the peace price – she pushed for the release of Liu Xiaobo, in a letter presented to Chinese President Hu Jintao.
With Pelosi at the helm, the House of Representatives passed a resolution on Wednesday, congratulating Liu Xiaobo on the award of the Nobel Prize and calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), had harsher words for the Chinese government.
“They don’t want the Chinese people to know that a man they have in prison was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,” Dorgan told ABC News. “They ought to be profoundly embarrassed by that behavior.”
Dorgan has held several hearings examining human rights and rule of law in China. Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, personally invited Dorgan to attend the ceremony.
A total of 17 countries, plus China, did not attend the ceremony, the most significant among them being Russia, which said the decision was not politically motivated.
China had been urging diplomats to boycott the ceremony, sending requests to European embassies in Oslo earlier this month. Beijing also warned Norway before the prize was announced that choosing Liu would strain diplomatic relations.
It is unclear if Washington will suffer any trade or diplomatic repercussions because of its decision to not only attend, but its vociferous call for Liu’s release. China has certainly hinted that support for Liu Xiaobo will lead to trouble. The threats are similar to those China issues to countries who chose to receive another Nobel Peace Prize winner: the Dalai Lama.
The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos found a recent study that tracked whether countries that choose to receive the Dalai Lama affected international trade with China. The German researchers concluded that those countries are punished via a reduction of their exports to China.
Outgoing Sen. Dorgan said the administration has pushed hard behind the scenes to put pressure on China regarding Liu Xiaobo, and added it is important that Washington continue to do so.
“It’s not the case where we can turn a blind eye to human rights violations in China because we’re worried that China might respond.”