A seat in Oslo that shouldn't be empty

By Yang Jianli
Monday, December 6, 2010

Dear President Hu Jintao,

Hope dims that you will join peace-loving governments around the world by allowing Liu Xia to travel to Oslo this week to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of her husband, Liu Xiaobo. Instead, for some unfathomable reason, your government, even under the clear gaze of the world, appears to cling to the myths and denials that can only further alienate it from the people of China and the community of nations.

There is still time, however, for you to seize this opportunity. A seat on the ceremony stage Friday will be reserved for Liu Xia. Her presence would be received with joy by people across the world. Your government will be the beneficiary of that joy. The criticism you are receiving now for Liu's imprisonment and his wife's house arrest will dissipate. Her presence would send a strong message that the government of China is ready, willing and able to move toward the political and human rights reforms that we all recognize are necessary for maintaining the harmony and stability of Chinese society and peace in the world.

Liu Xiaobo has said, "I have no enemies." We are all interested in improving the quality of life in China. By allowing Liu Xia to take her seat in Oslo, you would show the world that your government embraces those who want to improve China. You would show the world that the Chinese government is strong and that it does not fear criticism but embraces it as necessary for improving society.

On the other hand, a vacant seat on the stage will speak of weakness and fear. It will raise the specter of a government that clings to the past and is unwilling or unable to accept change based on the realities of life and the desires of its people.

I do not want the image of an empty seat at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony to become the symbol of China in the 21st century. I do not believe you want that, either - an icon that says China is out of touch with the world community and international norms of behavior. More and more Chinese have come to realize that it is time for China to transcend its centuries of blood-stained politics and incorporate itself into the civilized world. Chinese politicians must shed the attitude of ignorance and hatred, the ideology of suspicion and opposition. They must approach our world from a new perspective.

This is why Liu Xiaobo's Nobel glory will play an important role in China's future. We are all called upon to face the difficult challenges of today and tomorrow. China's leaders should not exclude themselves from the process. Giving up ruling by pure force is a compulsory political course that you and your government should opt to take now.

The writer is president of Initiatives for China and a Harvard fellow. He served a five-year prison term in China, from 2002 to 2007, for attempting to observe labor unrest. He is the liaison to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee on behalf of Liu Xia. Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo is serving 11 years in prison for his writings.

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