China in 'Whitewash Campaign' Ahead of Liu Xiaobo's Death

china-liu-xiao-bo-sick-june-2017-crop.jpg Liu Xiaobo's wife Liu Xia takes care of her husband at an unidentified hospital in Shenyang, Liaoning province, June 30, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Zeng Jinyan

The death China's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo on Thursday aged 61 after being hospitalized with terminal liver cancer from prison just over a month ago sparked an all-out government propaganda effort to counter domestic and international criticism.

His death was confirmed by a statement from the legal bureau of the municipal government in Shenyang, provincial capital of northeastern Liaoning province.

"Liu suffered multiple organ failure, and efforts to save him failed," the bureau said.

Official media immediately swung into action to counteract a recent chorus of criticism from rights activists and concern from the international community over the ruling Chinese Communist Party's refusal to allow Liu to seek medical attention overseas and end his days free from official control.

"Top-notch medical teams had been assigned to treat him with advanced drugs and therapies at the First Hospital of China Medical University [in Shenyang]," the party-controlled Global Times said, reporting Liu's death, aged 61.

It quoted German and American doctors as saying that "they could not think of a better alternative, and that the Chinese medical team was doing a great job."

The paper said Liu had received regular health checks and cancer screening since 2012 after he entered prison with hepatitis B, which can lead to liver cancer.

Propaganda blitz

Sources said Beijing's propaganda machine had kicked into high gear shortly ahead of Liu's death.

"Right now all the officials are taking a high-pressure hose and trying to wash everything down, to whitewash everything, bit by bit," a retired former official from Liaoning's provincial capital Shenyang said in an interview on Thursday that was recorded shortly before Liu died.

"They are launching a public relations campaign to make themselves look squeaky-clean, that's their game," the former official said.

He said Liu's treatment has been a public relations disaster for the communist party, however.

"First, they managed to turn the guy into a Nobel prize-winner, and now they are turning him into a martyr, whose spirit can't be locked up," he said. "This is a joke that's not funny."

Broken promises

A retired Beijing-based academic said he was also very angry at the treatment meted out by the authorities to Liu at the end of his life.

"Liu Xiaobo's liver cancer was allowed to develop until it became incurable, and I am so angry about that," the academic, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

"The Communist Party promised us so much at the start of its rule, and now the situation has gotten this bad, it will need several generations to change it."

Sources close to the family said the authorities had earlier stepped up the state security police presence around Liu's ward in the Shenyang No. 1 Medical University Hospital, in preparation for Liu's death.

"They have sent more personnel to the 23rd floor," the source said, alluding to the location of Liu's hospital room. "There are also more than 20 people standing guard on the ground floor of the hospital, and an operation team leader."

Other reactions

In Hong Kong, as Liu's death was announced, a 24-hour silent vigil outside China's liaison office in the city entered its fourth day.

A participant surnamed Wong said she had come along in spite of believing that it would have little effect on the communist party.

"I know it won't have any effect, because the communist party is a dictatorship, and they pay no attention to us whatsoever," Wong said. "They paid no attention to our Occupy movement for more than 70 days, and they didn't give way an inch, so they will care even less about our vigil."

"But I had to do it anyway, because I wanted them to see how determined we are."

Germany-based writer Liao Yiwu, who was once jailed for writing a poem commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, said Chancellor Angela Merkel's government had done everything it could to save Liu and his family, amid international calls for him to be treated overseas.

"I understand the difficulties Merkel has had trying to deal with the Chinese government," Liao said. "But if Liu Xiaobo dies in China, and his wife isn't allowed to leave China after that, then she may not live long either."

"That's why she asked an intermediary to request Merkel's help."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing and Lam Kwok-lap for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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