World leaders call for release of Liu Xiaobo’s widow but stop short of hard line

Western governments and the European Union have called for the widow of the political activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo to be released from house arrest and be given the freedom to leave China following her husband’s death on Thursday.

The United States, Germany, Britain, France and European Union made the request for Liu Xia’s release, but most countries avoided using strong words to criticise Beijing’s treatment of Liu.

He was serving an 11-year prison term on subversion charges, but was released on medical parole and treated in hospital after he was diagnosed with liver cancer in May. His requests to be treated overseas were rejected by the Chinese authorities.

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Germany was the only country which demanded that China “quickly, transparently and plausibly answer the question of whether the cancer could not have been identified much earlier”.

The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it “was wrong” for China to repeatedly deny Liu his choice of medical treatment overseas.

Meanwhile, the heads of states of the US, Germany, France, Norway issued tributes to Liu, but their statements were limited to expressions of sadness and condolences.

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Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen issued a lengthy statement on social media, calling for Beijing to promote political reform.

There were no words from the British Prime Minister Theresa May, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, or from Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Here is what foreign head of state or their governments have said following Liu’s death:


White House 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. 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.”

Statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “My heartfelt condolences go out to Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, and all of his loved ones. I call on the Chinese government to release Liu Xia from house arrest and allow her to depart China, according to her wishes.”


A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel quoted her as saying: “I mourn Liu Xiaobo, the courageous fighter for civil rights and freedom of opinion. Deep condolences to his family.”

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Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he deeply regretted that China did not let Liu and his wife Liu Xia travel to Germany for treatment.

“She and her brother, Liu Hui, should immediately be allowed to leave for Germany or another country of their choice if they wish to … China now has the responsibility to quickly, transparently and plausibly answer the question of whether the cancer could not have been identified much earlier.”


Statement from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: “Liu Xiaobo should have been allowed to choose his own medical treatment overseas, which the Chinese authorities repeatedly denied him. This was wrong and I now urge them to lift all restrictions on his widow, Liu Xia.”


Tweet from President Emmanuel Macron: “Tribute to Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Prize Peace Laureate, great freedom fighter. Thoughts and support to his relatives and his wife Liu Xia.”

Statement from French Foreign Minister Jean-YvesLe Drian: “I offer my condolences to all his loved ones. France had repeatedly called for his release and we hope that the Chinese authorities will guarantee freedom of movement for his wife, Liu Xia, his family and his loved ones.”

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Statement from Prime minister Erna Solberg: “It is with deep grief that I received the news of Liu Xiaobo’s passing. Liu Xiaobo was for decades a central voice for human rights and China’s further development. My thoughts go now to his wife, Liu Xia, and his family and friends.”

Berit Reiss-Andersen, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said China “bears a heavy responsibility for [Liu’s] premature death” and criticised Western governments for not being vocal enough in support before his death.

“The news of Liu Xiaobo’s serious condition was met in part with silence and belatedly, hesitant reactions worldwide …It is a sad and disturbing fact that the representatives of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, are less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others.”


Statement from the EU Commission: “We appeal to the Chinese authorities to allow his wife, Ms Liu Xia and his family to bury Liu Xiaobo at a place and in a manner of their choosing and to allow them to grieve in peace. We call on the authorities to remove all restrictions on the movement and communications of his family members and allow Ms Liu Xia and her brother Mr Liu Hui to leave China, if they wish to do so.”

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Statement from Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland: “I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Liu and to his many supporters around the world. In particular, my thoughts go to Mr Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, herself a tremendous symbol of courage and poise, who remains under house arrest. We continue to call for the release of all political prisoners.”

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Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed “sincere condolences” and said Japan would closely watch human rights in China.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was vague on Japan’s position on Liu Xia

“In respect of [Liu’s] wife, we think [China] should act appropriately from the standpoint of freedom, respect for basic human rights and the rule of law.”

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was deeply saddened by the death of Liu and expressed his condolences.


Statement from President Tsai Ing-wen: “We hope that the Chinese authorities can show confidence in engaging in political reform so that the Chinese can enjoy the God-given rights of freedom and democracy. This will be a turning point in cross-strait relations. The Chinese dream is not supposed to be about military might. It should be about taking ideas like those from Liu Xiaobo into consideration. Only through democracy, in which every Chinese person has freedom and respect, can China truly become a proud and important county.”