Xinhua's Muted Reaction to Nobel Peace Prize

Xinhua matter-of-factly reported this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman, as well as some legal issues surrounding Johnson Sirleaf’s bid for re-election as president of Liberia. The Atlantic Wire noted:

Oftentimes, what state-run news outlets don’t say is as important as what they do say. Today, for example, the Xinhua news agency only has a three-paragraph brief on the Liberian and Yemeni women who won the Nobel Peace Prize this morning, and other major sites aren’t covering the news at all. The Xinhua item includes “Backgrounders” on past winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Physics. But there’s no Backgrounder on Peace. Why? Last year’s winner was dissident Chinese writer and human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo, who remains in prison ….

Also absent from Xinhua’s coverage were denunciations of the prize as “a farce” awarded by “clowns” indulging in “Cold War practices”.

Human rights groups, on the other hand, drew attention to the continued imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo and house arrest of his wife, Liu Xia:

Mr. Liu has rarely been allowed to talk to family members since the Nobel committee made its announcement on Oct. 8, 2010, and he has been allowed to leave the prison where he is being held in Liaoning Province only once, according to the groups, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and China Human Rights Defenders. Ms. Liu has been kept under detention in the couple’s home in Beijing but has not been charged with any crime.

“The only thing that would force the government to reassess the decision is if there was some strong international pressure on China in this case, but the pressure is not there,” Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview. “There’s no incentive for the government to revisit this decision. We’re talking about a climate where standing defiantly against the West is reaping more political awards than collaborating.”

Human Rights Watch accused the authorities of attempting to deflect criticism by allowing family visits to Liu Xiaobo ahead of the 2011 Nobel announcement and anniversary of his own award:

In early October, the Chinese government allowed Liu’s brothers to release information that Liu had been allowed out of prison briefly on September 18 to see family members. They also said that Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, who has been held under legally baseless house arrest since the prize was announced, was allowed to visit Liu Xiaobo in August. Liu’s brothers’ reports of Liu’s apparent good health were positive news, Human Rights Watch said, but the Chinese government’s consistent refusal until those visits to allow him the family visits permitted under criminal law are cause for serious concern.

That this information was made available in the days before the Nobel anniversary, a time of renewed interest in Liu’s case, reflects the Chinese government’s calculated and cynical strategy to blunt international criticism, underscoring the extent to which Chinese authorities will go to avoid negative publicity, Human Rights Watch said.

See also China’s Jailed Nobel Laureate One Year Later, on CDT.