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Human rights in China

Trump’s trade war may have helped Liu Xia win her freedom, Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu says

The writer and human rights advocate says the US president’s trade war may have helped Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, win her release and move to Germany

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 6:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 10:47pm

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is credited with playing a leading role in winning the release of Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese human rights activist and Noble Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, from eight years of de facto house arrest in China.

But an outspoken Chinese dissident believes that US President Donald Trump ought to be thanked as well.

The Chinese writer-in-exile Liao Yiwu told an audience in New York on Wednesday that Trump may have had something to do with the release of his friend Liu, who was allowed to leave China for Germany in July.

“If the US had not launched a trade war with China, it is impossible to tell if Liu Xia would have been allowed to leave China or not,” he told a packed room at a panel discussion hosted by the Václav Havel Library Foundation in Manhattan.

“I know that most of the West doesn’t particularly like Donald Trump, but in this particular case, I’m grateful to Trump for launching the trade war.”

Liu Xia talks about Liu Xiaobo, thanks supporters at New York event 

Liao also recognised the role that Merkel played in advocating for Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia’s release. For Liao, Merkel’s outspokenness was especially noteworthy given that “the rest of the world was silent on this issue”.

Liao said that such silence – as a possible trade-off for the economic opportunities China offers – is a dangerous trend, and that the burying of questions about human rights by other international leaders shows that China’s market has become “a huge, monstrous thing influencing the West”.

Watch: Liu Xia speaks publicly for first time since leaving China

The West, Liao added, continues to assume that market development in China will be accompanied with democratic development, but the nation’s recent history of economic opening along with a narrowing of rights shows “that the market doesn’t really bring democracy”.

Whether or not human rights are part of his motivation, for Liao, Trump deserves credit for taking an aggressive stance against Beijing by initiating a trade war that threatens to reach every product China exports to the US.

Trump’s move has put some of his key political constituencies at risk for economic losses, including US farmers, retailers and manufacturers that import components from China.

Liu Xia’s last hours in China before her flight to freedom

The discussion with Liu, titled “The Power of the Powerless in China”, was held ahead of the awards ceremony for the Václav Havel Library Foundation’s 2018 Disturbing the Peace Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk on Thursday. Liao is to receive the award, while Liu Xia, who was also nominated, is also expected to attend.

The panel in New York was moderated by Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy. In addition to Liao, it also featured Liu Xia and Chinese scholar Professor Andrew J. Nathan of Columbia University.

Joy for Liu Xia as she arrives in Germany

Liu, 57, spoke briefly about her husband but took the opportunity to thank her supporters. It was Liu’s first formal public appearance since she was released to Berlin in July. Liu Xiaobo, China’s most famous advocate for democracy, died at 61 in 2017 of liver cancer, while serving a prison sentence for inciting subversion.

Liao, 60, is known for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese Communist Party. The author of several critically acclaimed non-fiction books on China, including The Corpse Walker and God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, Liao was arrested and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in 1990 for publicly memorialising the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 4, 1989 with his poem, “Massacre”.

Watch: Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo dies

After his release, Liao continued to criticise China’s government and lived under frequent police surveillance until he escaped into exile in Germany in 2011.

Regardless of whether Trump’s trade war influenced Chinese authorities to release Liu Xia, her freedom, Liao said, was not indicative of any softening attitude by Chinese officials towards internal critics.

Just one day after Liu Xia’s release, he reminded his audience, Qin Yongming, a founder of the China Democracy Party, who had already served 22 years in jail, was sentenced to 13 years more. And Huang Qi, the creator of the 64 Tian Wang Human Rights Centre, is still being held in prison despite his ailing health and lack of medical treatment.