Anti-Nobel plan energizes West

Beijing’s campaign boosts star power of Liu Xiaobo

A man shows the first Confucius Peace Prize awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan during a press conference in Beijing, China, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. A Chinese group awarded its own version of a peace prize Thursday, a move apparently intended to counter the Nobel committee's decision to honor imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)A man shows the first Confucius Peace Prize awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan during a press conference in Beijing, China, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. A Chinese group awarded its own version of a peace prize Thursday, a move apparently intended to counter the Nobel committee’s decision to honor imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)
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BEIJING | China’s campaign to vilify this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and sabotage the award ceremony showed signs of backfiring Thursday, as criticism of Beijing rose and the imprisoned Chinese dissident seemed to be turning into a celebrity.

While China has successfully pressured more than a dozen countries not to attend Friday’s ceremony to honor Liu Xiaobo and began blocking foreign media coverage of the event on the Internet on Thursday, analysts said its efforts also appeared to be galvanizing the West, reminding democracies of the gulf between them and Beijing.

Despite the criticism of Beijing’s response, China remains too big and too important to be shunned for long: Its role as the world’s factory floor and banker to the West rules out political and economic retaliation.

The high-pressure tactics continued unabated Thursday, the same day China handed out its newly inaugurated Confucius Peace Prize — hastily created as a riposte to the Nobel.

Amnesty International said members of Norway’s Chinese community were being pressured by Chinese diplomats to join anti-Nobel protests planned for Friday and had been threatened with retaliation if they failed to appear.

A girl shows a stack of prize money for the first Confucius Peace Prize awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan in Beijing on Thursday. The Chinese group awarded its own version of a peace prize, a move apparently intended to counter the Nobel committee's decision to honor imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo. (Associated Press)

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Instead, some pro-democracy protesters showed up Thursday in Oslo in support of Mr. Liu, and the rights group planned to deliver a petition demanding his release to the Chinese Embassy.

In China, Mr. Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, and dozens of friends, colleagues and sympathizers are under house arrest or tight surveillance to prevent them from attending the ceremony. Attempts to reach them by phone were met with messages saying their numbers didn’t exist.

Mr. Liu, a 54-year-old literary critic and democracy advocate, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion handed down last year after he co-authored a bold appeal for human rights and political reform.

Previously almost unknown even within China, Mr. Liu has in recent weeks been transformed into a cause celebre among global rights activists and a source of curiosity to young, Internet-savvy Chinese.

Several news websites, including the BBC’s and Norwegian broadcaster NRK’s, were blocked in China on Thursday, apparently to blot out coverage of the ceremony. Some Nobel-related reports on CNN’s website also were inaccessible.

But this campaign has taken a toll on China’s efforts to win foreign friends by projecting a more mild image of the country through foreign aid, investment, media and educational exchanges.

Li Heping, a civil rights lawyer, said the government’s harsh reaction to the prize was an eye-opener for the West.

“In the past, the West didn’t have a consensus on China. But this affair, this Nobel prize, has created one because it is linked with the West’s core values,” said Mr. Li, who was disbarred after pursuing human rights cases.

The U.S. Congress and prominent rights groups repeated their calls for Mr. Liu’s release, saying China’s actions violated both domestic laws and Beijing’s international commitments.

China’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,” Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said in a statement Thursday.

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