Chinese Rights Activists Slam 'Panda Diplomacy' Ahead of G20 Summit

Activists say Western countries are increasingly sacrificing human rights to economic benefits in their dealings with China.

Protesters call in Berlin for the release of Chinese democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, July 6, 2017.

Chinese rights activists have hit out at President Xi Jinping's "panda diplomacy" amid mounting criticism of Beijing's human rights record as leaders of the G20 group of nations met in the port city of Hamburg on Friday.

But as the European Parliament passed a human rights resolution ahead of the G20 summit calling on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to release two political prisoners, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was pictured alongside Xi, visiting a panda recently "gifted" to Germany by China.

Dozens of activists turned out in protest against China's human rights record, chanting "We don't want pandas! Release Liu Xiaobo!" in a reference to the cancer-stricken political prisoner now being treated in northeastern China for late-stage liver cancer.

Protest organizer Fei Liangyong said Beijing's "panda diplomacy" is unacceptable.

"They should not be allowed to roll out a panda for diplomatic purposes after China jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo until he was terminally ill," Fei said. "We call on the German government to to step up pressure on the Chinese Communist Party, and demand Liu  Xiaobo's release."

Other activists hit out at what they said was heavy-handed policing during the protest, which came as some 100,000 anti-globalization protesters converged on Hamburg, clashing with police and torching cars ahead of the summit, Liao said the police were taking the wrong side.

"I feel very uneasy today, because this is the first time I have seen the police in a democratic, Western country stand on the side of power," Germany-based Chinese writer and social commentator Liao Tianqi said. "They forced us to move from one side [of the panda house] to the other, so as to protect a single dictator."

"They are using cute pandas as a political tool," Liao said. "But if the German public knew the situation of Liu Xiaobo, they would definitely support our point of view instead."

"Western countries really should know the real meaning of panda diplomacy. It is a shameful and undignified political game," Liao said.

Focused on profit

Germany-based democracy activist Qian Yuejun agreed.

"A lot of Western countries are sometimes too focused on profit and economic benefits, and they are careful not to annoy the Chinese government," Qian said. "But all too often, they sacrifice basic minimum standards on human rights."

"I really hope that the German government won't just forget basic standards on human rights," he said. "There are clear provisions about this in the German constitution."

Meanwhile, activists in Hong Kong continued their protests for Liu Xiaobo's release, gathering outside Beijing's liaison office in the city.

Pan-democratic lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said he doesn't believe that Liu is getting the best possible cancer care at the Shenyang No. 1 Medical University Hospital in the northeastern province of Liaoning, in spite of the authorities' inviting cancer specialists to come and treat him.

"Our main message to the Chinese Communist Party is that they should release Liu Xiaobo immediately and allow his family to determine where he is treated," Kwok said. "It is unacceptable that he shouldn't be free to choose his own treatment for a terminal illness."

Medication 'adjusted'

Liu's brother-in-law issued a statement on Friday saying Liu's medication hadn't been stopped, as reported, but only "adjusted" with the family's consent.

"Liu Xiaobo has not stopped being medicated. But because his condition is grave and the tumor is rapidly progressing, after a consultation by top domestic specialists, the medication has been adjusted, with his family's consent," the letter read.

"I express resentment at the people who spread and create rumors and distort facts," Liu Hui wrote in a handwritten statement posted on the hospital website.

Beijing Film Academy professor Hao Jian, who is a friend of Liu Xia, said the family is under huge political pressure, but still wants  Liu Xiaobo to be treated outside China.

"They are under the total control of the authorities," Hao said. "They basically have to say whatever officials tell them to say."

"But at least Liu Hui didn't say that they don't want overseas treatment. I think he is under surveillance, but it shows they couldn't get him to say that, at least," he said.

Nonviolent struggle

A literary critic and former professor, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China" in a decision that infuriated Beijing, which says he has broken Chinese law. During the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Liu was represented by an empty chair.

Beijing cut off trade ties with Norway in the wake of the award, although the Norwegian government said it had nothing to do with the decision. Ties were only fully resumed last December.

Liu has been held since 2008 after helping to draft Charter 08, a manifesto calling for sweeping changes in China's government that was signed by thousands of supporters.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung, Lam Kwok-lap and Tam Lee for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long and Tian Yi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.