TOKYO/BEIJING (Reuters) - China has asked Japan not to attend a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honouring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Japan’s foreign minister said, in a move that could further strain Sino-Japanese ties after a recent territorial row.
Beijing has already warned European nations that supporting the jailed Chinese democracy activist would be seen as an affront to China’s legal system. Diplomatic sources said China had sent letters to ambassadors in Oslo discouraging them from showing up at the December 10 ceremony.
China is already preventing Liu’s associates from leaving the country, with his lawyer Mo Shaoping stopped by police on Tuesday after trying to board a plane to London for a conference.
“What reason did they give? It was that our leaving the country would harm national security,” Mo told Reuters.
The lawyer insisted he had no intention of travelling to the Norwegian capital.
“The International Bar Association invited me to speak at their conference three months ago and it had absolutely no connection with the peace prize,” he said.
Relations between Asia’s two largest economies deteriorated in September with the detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain by the Japanese coast guard after their boats collided near islands in the East China Sea that both sides claim.
“It is true that there were requests through diplomatic routes in Tokyo and Norway that no one related to the Japanese government attend the Nobel Peace Prize Award ceremony,” Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told parliament Tuesday.
“We aim to reach a sound decision regarding the attendance of our ambassador to Norway.”
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has seen support for his government tumble due in part to voter dissatisfaction with its handling of the territorial dispute, said he had asked Maehara to examine the issue of attending the ceremony.
Kan reiterated, however, that he believed it was desirable for Liu to be released.
Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, in Japan for a visit that will likely overlap with Chinese leader Hu Jintao’s attendance at a regional summit in Japan this week, repeated Saturday his support for Liu.
“In his movement, (Liu is) not toppling the government, but trying to bring more openness, more accountability,” the Dalai Lama told reporters in Narita, near Tokyo.
“China remaining a secretive society is very very harmful for making significant contributions regarding world affairs ... China, sooner or later, you have to open, it’s the only way,” he said.
Liu is serving an 11-year jail term on subversion charges for his role in advocating democracy and multi-party rule.
There has been speculation over whether China’s Hu will formally meet the Japanese prime minister at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) summit in Yokohama, after Kan had to settle for brief informal chats with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on two previous occasions.
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and David Stanway; Editing by Ron Popeski