Beijing to let foreign doctors treat Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo’s cancer in China
Overseas experts to join team of Chinese doctors treating the jailed former political activist in hospital, but his family still want him to be treated abroad, friend says
The Chinese authorities have agreed to invite foreign medical experts, including from the United States and Germany, to help treat the jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, amid mounting pressure calling for his treatment abroad.
The calls come as President Xi Jinping is preparing to take part in the G20 summit in Germany later this week.
The hospital where Liu is receiving treatment in Shenyang in northeastern Liaoning province will “invite the most authoritative international therapists from the United States, Germany and other countries to China” to join a team of Chinese doctors treating Liu, a statement on the city’s justice bureau website said on Wednesday.
The invitation to foreign doctors was made at the request of his family and in consultation with his Chinese doctors, according to the statement.
However, a friend of Liu’s in contact with his family said they still insisted he should be treated abroad.
Liu, China’s most famous political prisoner, was sentenced to 11 years behind bars in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power”. He had signed a petition known as “Charter 08” with other rights activists calling for sweeping political reforms on the mainland.
The 61-year-old was granted medical parole after he was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in May.
Liu’s friend Mo Zhixu, a columnist and early signatory of the charter, said the invitation to foreign doctors was made by the authorities to ease mounting pressure at home and abroad by friends, rights groups and diplomats calling for Beijing to grant Liu the freedom to go overseas for treatment.
“The timing of the announcement is definitely not a coincidence,” Mo said, referring to the G20 summit starting on Friday. Xi arrived in Germany on Tuesday.
Mo said the invitation was a “convenient tool” for Xi to respond to any potential criticism at the summit over China’s treatment of Liu.
Liu’s friends, relatives and rights groups have criticised the authorities, accusing them of providing him with insufficient care behind bars.
Rights activist Hu Jia, another long-time friend of Liu, said the foreign doctors offer was a “compromise and concession” by Beijing in face of growing pressure.
He added that it was a “U-turn” from the government’s position last week, stating that foreign doctors were not allowed to practise in China.
Allowing foreign medical experts to help in Liu’s treatment would, however, make the kind of care he receives and his health condition more transparent, said Hu.
“The authorities should have no right to restrict independent foreign medical experts from releasing information about Liu to foreign authorities, medical institutions and the public,” he said.
Liu’s friend Mo, who saw the jailed activist’s family in Shenyang over the weekend, said they had not changed their minds on wanting Liu to receive care overseas.
“They insisted he should go abroad because China’s medical standards were not as high as those in the West, especially in the area of experimental therapies.
“Moreover, if Liu can go abroad, he can break free of the current confinement and be in a better mood, which is also conducive to recovery,” he said.
Mo travelled to Shenyang with another friend Wen Kejian to try to visit Liu in hospital, but failed on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. Mo said a nurse told them on Tuesday the hospital’s staff had no knowledge of such a patient, despite people asking about Liu’s ward everyday over the past week.
The Chinese authorities told diplomats from Germany, the United States and the European Union on Friday that Liu could not be moved abroad due to his condition, sources briefed on the matter told the Reuters news agency.
The United States and the European Union have called on Beijing to allow Liu to choose where he wants to be treated.
China’s foreign ministry has so far dismissed concerns from other countries about Liu, at least publicly, saying it was an internal matter for China.
Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said inviting US and German doctors to consult on Liu’s case appeared to be “an attempt to limit international criticism”.
“Time is running out for Liu Xiaobo. It is not too late for the authorities to end this cruel farce. They must let Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, travel abroad to get the medical treatment he so desperately needs,” Shetty said.
Additional reporting by Mimi Lau