Obama: China must free courageous Liu

2010-10-08 20:28

Washington - US President Barack Obama on Friday urged China to release quickly Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Obama called the jailed dissident an "eloquent and courageous" supporter of human rights and democracy.

The comments are likely to rattle China further at a time that the United States is stepping up pressure on Beijing for a currency policy that Washington blames for American job losses.

Obama's statement, released hours after Liu was awarded the prize by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, reflected the sensitivity of US-Chinese relations.

Obama praised China's "dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty".

But, he added: "this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected."

US officials try to strike a balance with China, pressing it on economic and human rights issues, while trying to win crucial Chinese support on Iranian and North Korean nuclear standoffs, climate change and other difficult issues.

'Sacrificed his freedom'

Obama, in his statement, also brought up his own Nobel Peace award last year, repeating his belief that other laureates had done more. "That list now includes Mr Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs," Obama said.

There was no immediate reaction from Beijing on Obama's warm words for Liu, who was sentenced last year to 11 years in prison on subversion charges after he co-authored a document calling for greater freedom, among other things.

The award, however, has infuriated Chinese officials. Beijing quickly warned that the decision would harm relations with Norway, which is the home of the independent peace prize committee.

Touchy relationship

A recent US-China agreement to end an eight-month freeze on military exchanges led to cautious hope that US ties were improving with China, which boasts the world's second-largest economy after the United States.

But Liu's prize and rising US-China economic friction this week complicates the Obama administration's efforts to win Chinese trust and co-operation.

The award also is set against the backdrop of harsh criticism by US lawmakers, faced with make-or-break congressional elections next month, that Beijing's currency policies are responsible for the loss of thousands of American jobs.

US critics contend that the Chinese yuan is undervalued by as much as 40%, giving Chinese companies a significant competitive advantage over American businesses.

Ahead of this week's global financial meetings in Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner ratcheted up pressure on China to make more progress in moving toward flexible exchange rates.