Wikileaks is the gift that keeps on giving. The latest revelation is about how Chinese diplomats reacted when the US expressed its displeasure over China’s treatment of Liu.
It was just before Christmas 2009, and Ding Xiaowen was not happy.
The United States ambassador had just written China’s foreign minister expressing concern for Liu Xiaobo, the Beijing intellectual imprisoned a year earlier for drafting a pro-democracy manifesto. Now Mr. Ding, a deputy in the ministry’s American section, was reading the riot act to an American attaché.
Mr. Ding said he would try to avoid “becoming emotional,” according to a readout on the meeting that was among thousands of leaked State Department cables released this month. Then he said that a “strongly dissatisfied” China firmly opposed the views of the American ambassador, Jon Huntsman, and that Washington must “cease using human rights as an excuse to ‘meddle’ in China’s internal affairs.”
On Friday, exactly one year after Mr. Huntsman wrote his protest, Mr. Liu, now serving an 11-year prison sentence for subversion, will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in a ceremony that he is unable to attend. And if anything is clear, it is that China no longer resists becoming emotional.
In the two months since the Nobel committee honored Mr. Liu, China has waged an extraordinary and unprecedented campaign, domestically and internationally, to discredit the award and to dissuade other governments from endorsing it.
According to the cables, one of Ding’s arguments was that “the most fundamental human rights were to food and shelter,” an area in which China has made “huge progress.” I don’t disagree with him, but also don’t believe that one necessarily precludes the other, i.e., food needn’t come at the expense of human rights. However, Ding’s comment squarely represents the attitude of most Chinese people, one that I fully understand.
I never blogged a lot about Liu or Charter 8 because I thought it was a story of relatively little consequence for China, and the reaction to the petition in China seemed tepid at best. It was the CCP’s handling of his arrest and prickly response to his winning the Nobel prize that got me blogging. I still see it as a PR blunder that damages a government thirsting for soft power.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.