OSLO, Norway — China and 18 other countries have declined to attend this year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honouring imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Nobel officials said Tuesday as China unleashed a new barrage deriding the decision.
Chinese officials in Beijing called Liu’s backers “clowns” in an anti-Chinese farce — comments that came only three days before the Dec. 10 Nobel peace prize ceremony in Oslo.
Beijing considers Liu’s recognition an attack on China’s political and legal system, and says the country’s policies will not be swayed by outside forces in what it calls “flagrant interference in China’s sovereignty.”
Liu, 54, is serving an 11-year sentence on subversion charges brought after he co-authored a bold call for sweeping changes to China’s one-party communist political system known as Charter 08.
Countries that have turned down an invitation to Friday’s ceremony include Chinese allies Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba, neighbours such as Russia, the Philippines and Kazakhstan, and business partners such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Other countries not appearing at the Oslo City Hall ceremony include Ukraine, Colombia, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Serbia and Morocco.
But at least 44 of the 65 embassies that were invited have accepted the invitation, the prize committee said.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu accused the Nobel committee of “orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves.”
“We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path,” she said.
The tough talk came even as authorities were placing Liu’s supporters, including his wife Liu Xia, under house arrest and stopping many others such as lawyers, academics and activists from leaving the country — apparently to prevent them from travelling to Oslo for the ceremony.
So far, only one of about 140 Chinese activists invited by Liu’s wife to attend the ceremony has said he’ll be able to make it, according to organizers — and he was not living in China.
Nobel committee secretary Geir Lundestad said countries gave various reasons for not attending but “some of them are obviously affected by China.” He said the committee was pleased that two-thirds of embassies had resisted Chinese pressure and accepted the invitation.
“We are especially happy that important countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa are coming,” Lundestad said.
Nobel officials said the peace prize will not be handed out Friday because none of Liu’s family members will be able to attend. The prestigious $1.4 million award can be collected only by the laureate or close family members.
China is not the first nation to be rankled by a Nobel Peace Prize — but its clampdown means the Nobel medal and diploma won’t be handed out for the first time since 1936, when Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting the prize.
Even Cold War dissidents Russian Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa of Poland were able to have their wives collect the prizes for them. Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s award was accepted by her 18-year-old son in 1991.
Jiang’s comments on Tuesday were the latest in a series of furious attacks against Liu, the Nobel committee and other supporters.
Beijing was enraged by the awarding of the prize to the democracy campaigner and literary critic and has sought to dissuade foreign diplomats from attending the award ceremony.
Jiang maintained there were more than 100 countries and international organizations opposed to awarding the prize to Liu, but refused to provide a list to reporters.
China has also put ties with Norway on ice in retaliation for the prize, with Jiang saying Norway should take “total responsibility.” A senior Chinese official has said Beijing believes Washington orchestrated the award, ostensibly to humiliate China.
Lundestad declined comment on the Chinese criticism but described this year’s prize as “big and important” — like previous awards in which laureates were prevented from coming.
“It reflects on the regimes,” he said.
An empty chair will symbolize that both Liu and his family have been prevented by the Chinese regime from receiving the prize. “The empty chair will be the strongest argument for this year’s prize,” Lundestad said.
It is not unusual for some countries to skip the ceremony for various reasons. In 2008, when former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari was awarded the peace prize, 10 embassies did not attend.