Chinese Nobel boycott divides EU’s ‘inner circle’

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EU candidate country Serbia and four other nations on the Union's periphery – Ukraine, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco – have disappointed the European Commission by deciding to boycott a ceremony awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The Commission yesterday (8 December) deplored the decision and suggested that the countries had bowed to Chinese pressure.

"We are obviously very disappointed to hear of this reported decision [by Serbia]," said Angela Filote, spokesperson for Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle.

She indicated that the move was not in line with the EU's recent decision to open accession talks with Belgrade.

"Of course we will explain that a country that has aspirations of joining the European Union, an applicant country, must fully share the EU's values, and protection of human rights is one of its fundamental values. So we expect Serbia to coordinate its position with that of our member states," Filote said.

The issue was likely to be raised by Füle when he meets Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovi? today, she added.

Boycott

As reported by news agency Beta, EURACTIV's partner in Serbia, the Western Balkan hopeful joined a group of 18 states – spearheaded by China – that will boycott this year's ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee invited 65 countries to attend the 10 December award gala. Those not attending include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Columbia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.

Filote said that the Commission had taken note with regret that Ukraine, a country included in the EU's Eastern Partnership, had also reportedly joined the boycott.

The Eastern Partnership is an initiative aimed at forging closer ties between the EU and its Eastern neighbours. Meanwhile, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are members of the Union of the Mediterranean initiative and have also declined to attend.

"We are going to pass the same message to those countries," Filote said.

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic explained that although Belgrade was very concerned about the issue of human rights, it was also extremely concerned about its relations with China.

"Serbia pays extraordinary attention to the question of bilateral relations with China. All of our decisions have to do with achieving our national interests. China is one of Serbia's most important bilateral partners," Jeremic told reporters in Belgrade.

Slovenian liberal MEP Jelko Kacin (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; ALDE), the European Parliament's rapporteur on Serbia, said he was "shocked" by Serbia's decision to sit out the ceremony, adding that Serbia had previously shown a commitment to leading "a principled policy in relationship to the issue of human rights," EURACTIV Serbia reported.

Speaking ahead of the award ceremony, European Parliament Vice-President for Democracy and Human Rights Edward McMillan-Scott (ALDE) and Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala (Greens/European Free Alliance group, Finland), chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights, who will be in Oslo for the occasion, said:

"The widely publicised bullying tactics of the Chinese regime to encourage countries to stay away from the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony generates public scorn. It is essential that Liu Xiaobo be released to receive his prize along with his wife Liu Xia, who is currently under house arrest despite having committed no 'crime'.

"The Nobel Committee awarded Mr Liu the prize for 'his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China' and it is deplorable that as we celebrate his achievements in the fields of human rights and democracy, Mr. Liu will most likely remain in his prison cell - where his sentence will keep him until 2019.

"As the European Union was founded on the values of democracy and human rights then now more than ever before, the EU must show a strong and united front."

Reuters quoted Elizabeth Stephens, who assesses political risk at insurance broker Jardine Lloyd Thompson, as saying that many Nobel no-shows would look to China for future prosperity.

"Several countries on the list have US sanctions against them, like Sudan, Cuba and Iran," she said. "These countries depend to some extent on China for trade."

"All [of the absentee states] would object to the Nobel Prize being awarded to one of their own citizens who was imprisoned for activities perceived to undermine the state."

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and youth organisations campaigning for a free Tibet released a joint statement congratulating the Nobel Committee for awarding the prize.

"The Nobel Committee has acted courageously, especially in light of China's growing global political influence and of the pervasive perception that no country in the world can afford to disagree with or antagonise China," they said.

"A common bond connects the Chinese people with all the world's people. This common bond is a set of universal values that include the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression," they stated, calling on the Chinese government to release all those imprisoned for exercising their human rights.

When imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 8 October, the international press drew attention to the fact that in his message of congratulations, European Commission President Barroso stopped short of asking the Chinese authorities to release him as US President Barack Obama had done.

The news that the prestigious prize had been awarded to Liu was censored by the Chinese authorities. Beijing stated that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo "desecrated" the prize and "could harm China-Norway ties".

Barroso's message reads: "I would like to convey my congratulations to Liu Xiaobo for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2010.

"The Nobel Peace Prize Committee's decision is a strong message of support to all those around the world who, sometimes with great personal sacrifice, are struggling for freedom and human rights.

"These values are at the core of the European Union and the decision of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee highlighted their importance all over the world."

The congratulatory message of European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek was more strong-worded.

"Advocating for change and for human rights by peaceful means, as set out by Charter '08, must not be punished by a prison sentence. I call on the Chinese authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally," Buzek stated.

  • 10 Dec.: Award ceremony in Stockholm.

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