Remembering Liu Xiaobo
By Yang Jianli
The world lost a hero when China’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, died of liver cancer in Chinese custody on July 13, 2017.
In life as well as in death Liu Xiaobo represents the best of what China can ever be. He possessed a moral authority unimaginable to his persecutors, and his legacy of love, justice, and sacrifice will surely far outlive the deeds of those who persecuted him. His spirit will be an uplifting and unifying force that will inspire more Chinese people to fight to realize his dream-indeed, the common dream of the Chinese people. To the world, he represents the universal values that all democracies embrace, and he stands for the unwavering struggle of unfree people. Liu Xiaobo is a representative of universal ideas that resonate with millions of people all over the world.
Chinese human rights and democracy advocates had all hoped that Liu Xiaobo would one day complete his unjust prison sentence, and then reengage in his passionate quest for human rights and democracy in China, and also perhaps one day be able to savor the fruits of his life’s work. But instead, he is gone. Now, more than ever, it is critical to demand justice for Liu Xiaobo’s death, to lend a helping hand to assist his widow, Liu Xia, and other members of his family, and to fight in every way possible to honor the legacy of his courage and sacrifice.
Many suspect that the Chinese officials intentionally concealed Liu Xiaobo’s illness from him and his family, and intentionally hastened his death by denying proper care. Liu Xiaobo’s cancer was reportedly diagnosed May 23 during an emergency hospital visit because of internal bleeding. However, the news of his late-stage cancer did not become known until late June. During this time, his tumor enlarged from 5-6 cm to 11-12 cm. As early as 2010, Liu Xiaobo was suspected of suffering from hepatitis B, but the Chinese authorities never allowed him to receive aproper diagnosis and treatment. Moreover, Liu Xiaobo reportedly had two CT tests in 2016, which likely would have revealed large liver tumors. Medical parole in China is a political, rather than a medical, decision. In Liu Xiaobo’s case it was up to China’s top leaders to decide. What they chose was a thinly disguised death sentence.
Liu Xiaobo had been held incommunicado since December 2008 until he became terminally ill and was eventually allowed a visit by a German and an American doctor following aninternational outcry. During his entire imprisonment, he was not allowed to discuss current events, nor the persecutions that his wife Liu Xia and her family suffered. When Liu Xiaobo’s worsening condition became public, 154 Nobel laureates, human rights activists around the globe, and a handful of world leaders called for his immediate release and medical treatment overseas. Liu Xiaobo himself also expressed his wish to seek medical treatment abroad and to die in a place that was free. Tragically, the Chinese regime callously disregarded these requests. After persecuting him for so many years, the regime didn’t give a second thought to denying him his final wish.
Without a doubt, the Chinese Communist regime is responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. However, democracies’ appeasement policy towards China’s human rights abuses has made them accomplices to Liu Xiaobo’s slow and stealthy murder. It is a sad and disturbing fact that many leaders of the free world, who themselves hold democracy and human rights in high regard, had been less willing to stand up for those rights for the benefit of others. If the world continues to acquiesce to China’s aggression against its own people, Liu Xiaobo’s tragedy will berepeated, and the democratic ideal and the security of all free peoples will be in jeopardy.
The tragic death of Liu Xiaobo should give all of us a stronger sense of urgency in helping prisoners of conscience of China. It is a legitimate concern that now we can expect more human rights activists will languish and disappear in Chinese prisons: Wang Bingzhang, Hu Shigen, Zhu Yufu, Ilham Tohti, Tashi Wangchuk, Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jingling, Wu Gan, Guo Feixiong, Liu Xianbin, Chen Wei, Zhang Haitao…the list goes on. If American advocacy for human rights and justice is to mean anything at all, the US government must do more to support these political prisoners and to hold accountable the Chinese government and individuals who so brazenly abuse the fundamental rights of its people.
The U.S. can also do more to help Liu Xiaobo’s family. The Trump administration should make it an urgent priority to help Liu Xia leave China for a country of her choosing. The U.S. shouldimplement targeted sanctions against those personally responsible for Liu Xiaobo’s death. The U.S. can use the Global Magnitsky Act as a tool to sanction them-banning them from traveling in the U.S. and freezing their assets in this country-and also encourage its allies to do the same. It should also consider trade sanctions. In addition, the U.S. can honor Liu Xiaobo’s life and legacy by passing legislation to permanently rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC as “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”
To fight for the ideals of human rights and democracy, Liu Xiaobo sacrificed his career, his freedom, and now, his life. But we cannot give up on him. We have to seek justice for Liu Xiaobo’s death at the hands of the Chinese regime, and we have to prevent the tragedy that awaits his widow, Liu Xia, if we do not act immediatel to help her get out of China, and we have to preserve the legacy of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for a democratic and free China.