The presidents of the United States and France praised their Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at a press conference on Thursday, avoiding criticism of Beijing over Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo’s death. Rather than comment on the Chinese writer and dissident – who died of cancer while under guard in hospital – as they took questions from reporters in Paris, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron released warm tributes later. However, during the press event, Trump described Xi as a friend and patriot. “He’s a friend of mine. I have great respect for him,” Trump said. ‘Live on well’: fury, farewells and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo’s last words to his wife “We’ve gotten to know each other very well. A great leader. He’s a very talented man. I think he’s a very good man. He loves China. I can tell you. He loves China.” That praise was echoed by Macron, who described as “extremely fruitful and positive” his first contacts with Xi. The French leader later remembered Liu in a tweet, praising him as “a freedom fighter” and saying his thoughts were with his family. Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo dies at 61 Several hours later, the White House also released a statement. “President Donald J. Trump was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and prominent Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo,” it said. “The president’s heartfelt condolences go out to Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia, and his family and friends. A poet, scholar, and courageous advocate, Liu Xiaobo dedicated his life to the pursuit of democracy and liberty.” Charter 08 was more than a document for Liu Xiaobo, it was his whole life Earlier, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had praised Liu and called for his wife to be released. “Liu dedicated his life to the betterment of his country and humankind, and to the pursuit of justice and liberty,” Tillerson said in a statement. “I call on the Chinese government to release Liu Xia from house arrest and allow her to depart China, according to her wishes.” How Chinese internet users got round censors to mourn Liu Xiaobo And the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called Liu “a true champion for freedom and an inspiration to those longing for democracy around the world”.