Nobel head: Liu's prize based on "universal values"

OSLO/BEIJING Thu Dec 9, 2010 8:32pm GMT

1 of 9. Workers prepare the Nobel Peace Prize laureate exhibition 'I Have No Enemies' for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo December 9, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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OSLO/BEIJING (Reuters) - The Nobel Peace Prize panel on Thursday defended its award to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo as based on "universal values," rejecting Beijing's accusation that it is trying force Western ideas on China.

China maintained its combative tone on the eve of the prize ceremony in Oslo, and announced the award of its own "Confucius Peace Prize" to former Taiwan vice-president Lien Chan, though his office said he was unaware of the award.

China jailed Liu last Christmas Day for 11 years for subversion of state power and for being the lead author of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democratic reform in the one-party state.

Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told a news conference the award of the prize to Liu was not a protest.

"It is a signal to China that it would be very important for China's future to combine economic development with political reforms and support for those in China fighting for basic human rights," he said.

"This prize conveys the understanding that these are universal rights and universal values, they are not Western standards," he added.

His comments were unlikely to placate Beijing, where Communist Party ideologists consider "universal values" to be code words for Western liberalization.

CHINA ATTACKS U.S. CONGRESS

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu criticized the U.S. House of Representatives for calling on China to release Liu and his wife Liu Xia, who is under house arrest.

Jiang told a regular news briefing any attempts to pressure or "deter China from its development" would not succeed.

"China urges the relevant U.S. lawmakers to stop the wrong words and activity on the Liu Xiaobo issue and to change their arrogant and rude attitude," Jiang said. "They should show respect to the Chinese people and China's legal sovereignty."

"The U.S. Congress' so-called resolution distorts the truth, it is widely meddling in China's internal affairs," she said.

"Liu Xiaobo was not convicted because of his remarks," she said. "Liu wrote and published inflammatory articles on the Internet, organizing and persuading others to sign it, to stir up and overthrow China's political authority and social system."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said freedom of expression was at the core of human rights. "We continue to encourage the Chinese to open up their own political space for greater exchange of opinions and advocacy of ideas," she told reporters in Washington.

China's crackdown on dissidents, rights activists and friends and family of Liu has continued.

Police barred lawyers, scholars and NGO representatives from attending a seminar on the rule of law at the European Union's embassy in Beijing, the EU's ambassador to China said.

"It is a pity and in fact it is a shame," Serge Abou said.

China has flexed its economic muscle in drumming up support for a boycott of the Oslo award ceremony for Liu on Friday.

Most of the 18 or 19 states joining the boycott have strong commercial ties with China or share its hostility toward Western human rights pressure.

China said the "vast majority" of nations would boycott the ceremony. The Norwegian award committee says two-thirds of those invited would attend.

"WESTERN CRUSADE"

The Chinese delegation to UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, has refused to meet Oslo's team, led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Environment Minister Erik Solheim.

"There is no doubt that China sees the Peace Prize as a part of a Western crusade against their form of government," Solheim was quoted as saying.

Chinese state-run media accused the West of "launching a new round of China-bashing."

A number of countries and international human rights organizations have criticized Beijing for its sweeping crackdown on dissent ahead of the Oslo ceremony, preventing Liu's friends and family from attending.

"The Chinese government should be celebrating this global recognition of a Chinese writer and activist," said Salil Shetty, secretary general of rights group Amnesty International.

"Instead, the government'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," Shetty said.

Beijing has briefly blacked out BBC and CNN reports on Liu and his supporters over the past few days, though foreign news channels are generally only available in upmarket hotels and apartment buildings mostly inhabited by foreigners.

(Additional reporting by Huang Yan, Michael Martina, Lucy Hornby, Sabrina Mao and Ben Blanchard in Beijing, John Ruwitch in Hanoi and in Oslo; writing by Andrew Roche; Editing by David Storey)