Chinese authorities have closed the website of a high-profile liberal research institution, its founder, who just won a U.S. award for advocating the importance of liberty, said Tuesday.
Mao Yushi, the 83-year-old market economist who founded the Unirule Institute of Economics in Beijing, said he would still go ahead with plans to travel Wednesday to Washington to receive the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty from the libertarian Cato Institute.
He confirmed with RFA's Mandarin service that the website had been closed, saying he did not know why the Chinese government decided to shut it after its decade-long existence.
"I do not know. This is something quite unexpected. The Institute has been in existence for many years—roughly 10 years," he said in an interview.
Unirule was founded by a group of Chinese economists in July 1993.
The website carried academic articles published by the Institute and "friends" of the Institute, said Mao Yushi, an engineer-turned-economist, a vociferous critic of China’s one-party state, and an advocate of democracy and human rights.
The closure of the website comes amid U.S.-China tensions over the status of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest and is believed to be under U.S. protection in Beijing.
Beijing is also clamping down on increasing online debate over the ousting of high-flying politician and former Chongqing ruling Chinese Communist Party chief Bo Xilai.
Mao Yushi said the closure of the website would not deter him from traveling to the United States to collect his award from Cato.
"There has been no change," he said, adding that he is scheduled to leave Beijing on Wednesday.
"The award is very significant; it promotes freedom," he pointed out.
In 2010, Mao Yushi was among key intellectuals prevented by Beijing from traveling to Oslo for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned political activist.
Cato said the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, named in honor of a champion of liberty in the 20th century, is presented every other year to an individual who has made a significant contribution to advance human freedom.
The prize also carries a cash award of U.S. $250,000.
Cato said Mao Yushi was one of China’s most outspoken and influential activists for individual rights and free markets, a well-known advocate for an open and transparent political system, and one of the pioneers of the movement in China for civil society and freedom.
Before economic reform began in China in 1978, he had been an engineer and during his lifetime has faced severe punishment, exile, and near starvation for remarks critical of a command-based economy and society, Cato said.
Mao Yushi warned in the RFA interview that the booming Chinese economy was in a precarious state.
"There are bubbles and there are bad debts," he said, referring to China's real estate slump, which many analysts say is a major threat to economic growth and confidence in 2012, and to a rising pile of bad bank loans.
Asked what the Chinese government could do to tackle the problems, Mao Yushi said, "It’s kind of late now … China’s economic problems are tied in with its political problems."
"It’d be difficult to resolve the economic problems without resolving the political problems first."
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Jennifer Chou. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.