Home China A Chinese Dissident’s Wife May Have Become Beijing’s Diplomatic Tool

A Chinese Dissident’s Wife May Have Become Beijing’s Diplomatic Tool

Following eight years of house arrest, Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Prize for Peace laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, arrived in Germany on Tuesday, July 10. Her brother, Liu Hui, remains in China.

Liu Xia’s husband, Liu Xiaobo — a writer, human rights activist, and philosopher from Northeast China — died of cancer on July 13, 2017 following years of persecution and imprisonment by the communist Chinese government.

Liu Xia, 57, was previously barred from traveling. Since 2010, when her then-incarcerated husband received his Nobel Prize for Peace, she lived under heavy surveillance and control by the Chinese police.

Liu Xia’s husband Liu Xiaobo, a writer, human rights activist, and philosopher from Northeast China died of cancer on July 13, 2017, following years of persecution and imprisonment by the communist Chinese government. (Image: YouTube/Screenshot)
Liu Xia’s husband, Liu Xiaobo — a writer, human rights activist, and philosopher from Northeast China — died of cancer on July 13, 2017, following years of persecution and imprisonment by the communist Chinese government. (Image: YouTube/Screenshot)

But as trade tensions between the United States and China rose, Beijing began to court other governments. On July 8, two days after the U.S. government passed tens of billions of dollars’ worth of tariffs, Chinese premier Li Keqiang visited Germany and met with its chancellor, Angela Merkel.

During Li’s visit, the two leaders discussed trade and signed deals to “oppose protectionism and safeguard free trade system.” At the same time, the Chinese government agreed to let Liu Xia travel abroad, ostensibly for medical treatment.

Reports say that Merkel had privately requested the Chinese government for Liu Xia’s release. But Beijing’s action was apparently motivated by its interest in gaining Germany’s support in the ongoing trade war, not out of any genuine concern for human rights.  

The Nobel Prize for Peace 2010 ceremony: empty chair on the stage booked for Liu Xiaobo, who was in prison on that time; Chinese government also didn't allow Liu Xia travel to Oslo, putting her under house arrest. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)
The Nobel Prize for Peace 2010 ceremony in Oslo, Norway. An empty chair on the stage was intended for Liu Xiaobo, who was in prison at the time. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Germany, too, has received anger from the American government due to trade policies that Washington sees as unfair. According to Chinese state media, Angela Merkel said: “Germany opposes trade wars and advocates free trade based on rules,” and that Germany and China would cooperate in the crucial fields of digitization, artificial intelligence, energy, and other areas.

The Chinese Communist Party has and continues to persecute ethnic minorities, religions not under its direct control, and ordinary citizens campaigning for their rights. The Chinese police have developed increasingly advanced technologies and methods to suppress these groups.

Despite her time in house arrest, Liu Xia has never been formally charged with any crime. On July 13, the first anniversary of her husband’s death, she was absent for a memorial service held in his honor. According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, Liu’s friends said she did not attend owing to her health and out of concerns that the Chinese government might punish her brother, who is still in China.

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Leo Timm
Leo Timm is a writer and translator focusing on China's traditional culture, international relations, and its national polity. Follow him on Twitter at @nationalpolity.

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