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16th Sep 2019

EU ambassador to attend Nobel gala despite Chinese 'bullying'

The EU ambassador to Norway and senior diplomats from several EU countries plan to attend the Nobel peace prize ceremony next month despite Chinese pressure.

The office of EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton told EUobserver on Friday (5 November) that the EU's top man in Oslo, Janos Herman, will attend the gala dinner honouring Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on 10 December.

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  • 'Who is Liu Xiaobo?' The Nobel gala is traditionally attended by all 27 EU ambassadors (Photo: lny∆lny∆lny)

Mr Herman in recent days received a letter from his Chinese counterpart in the Norwegian capital asking him to boycott the ceremony. No letters were sent to the EU institutions in Brussels. But the vast majority of EU member states' bilateral missions in Norway received similar anti-Nobel requests.

"It is of course up to each individual member state to decide if they should attend the event. Should a member state or a number of member states request the High Representative/Vice-President [Ms Ashton] to have a co-ordinated position, the High Representative/Vice-President would take this on board. But we have not had such a request at this stage," her spokesman said.

The ambassadors of Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and the UK and the deputy chief of the German mission to Norway have in separate statements also confirmed they will attend.

China's anti-Nobel diplomacy has caused annoyance in Brussels. "It's not for China to dictate to member states what they should do. This is typical Chinese bullying tactics," an EU diplomatic contact said.

Meanwhile, France is hedging its bets. An official foreign ministry communique on Thursday said only that it will decide before 10 December. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has asked invitees to respond by 15 November.

The news on China's anti-Nobel lobbying came at an awkward time for France. Paris this week hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao on a three-day visit in which his delegation signed several billion euros' of contracts with French nuclear, aviation and petrochemical companies.

Asked by this website if France's silence on the Nobel question makes it look like it is putting Chinese money before human rights, the French foreign ministry's press service said it is not authorised to say anything beyond the Thursday communique. The three-day Chinese programme in France contained no question-and-answer opportunities for press.

Mr Liu is serving an 11-year-long jail sentence and is unlikely to collect his award in person.

According to an informal survey by an EUobserver contact in the Asian country, many educated Chinese people have not heard of him due to censorship. Some have not even heard of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Among those who have heard of Mr Liu, opinion is split between people who admire his bravery; others who see him as a "Western darling" and an agent of foreign interference; and those who think China should concentrate on economic growth instead of civil liberties.

Chinese state media are trying to rubbish his name in the run-up to the Nobel event.

An English language report on the Xinhuanet news agency on 28 October entitled "Who is Liu Xiaobo?" quoted him as saying that Chinese people are "weak" and that he is "ashamed" of being Chinese. It said that prior to his arrest he lived "comfortably" on money from foreign NGOs and drank fancy wine.

For its part, the Norwegian Nobel Committee last month said: "The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad. Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle."

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