The World from The Hill: Lauding Chinese Nobel winner on week's agenda

In a move that will anger Beijing, the House scheduled to vote this week on a bipartisan resolution honoring an imprisoned Chinese activist.

When seven lawmakers nominated Liu Xiaobo and two other Chinese activists for the Nobel Peace Prize in February, their letter noted that "few governments have the courage to brave the Chinese government's displeasure and honor them."

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The announcement of Liu as the recipient of this year's prize sparked terse warnings from Beijing that countries that recognized the achievement of the imprisoned democracy advocate would have to "take responsibility for the consequences."

That threat has prompted at least a handful of countries to avoid the Dec. 10 ceremony in Oslo, but undaunted legislators in the lower chamber are pressing forward with the congressional effort to laud Liu for his human-rights activism.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of the members who nominated Liu, introduced a resolution with 11 co-sponsors before the Thanksgiving break that congratulates the activist on his Nobel prize and "honors Liu Xiaobo's promotion of democratic reform in China, and the courage with which he has bore repeated imprisonment by the Government of China."

The resolution, which had racked up 30 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle by Friday, will see the light of day in the hectic lame-duck session.

Smith told The Hill on Thursday evening that he'd engaged in a "very nice" conversation with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and he has "every reason to believe it will come up next week." Pelosi's office said the Speaker supports Smith's resolution.

The whip notice released Friday evening shows Smith's resolution on the Tuesday schedule.

Pelosi and Smith were both invited to Oslo for the ceremony. The Nobel committee has said that the Speaker agreed to attend; a Pelosi aide told The Hill on Thursday that they would not confirm or deny travel as a standard security procedure and stressed that the congressional schedule is in flux.

"I have already agreed to be there," Smith said. "I very much want to be there," pending any last-minute congressional business that could pop up at the end of this week, he stressed.

Making time on the schedule to pass the resolution was not surprisingly a priority for the Speaker, who, like her Republican counterpart, has long devoted her efforts to human-rights concerns in China.

Pelosi wrote to President Hu Jintao in May 2009 asking for the release of "prisoners of conscience" including Liu. Documents unveiled last week by WikiLeaks quoted the Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan as saying Beijing was "scared to death" of her visit to the country that month. In 1991, Pelosi surreptitiously unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square dedicated "To those who died for democracy in China."

Democratic Rep. David Wu (Ore.), who was on the Nobel nominating letter and helped Smith circulate the resolution, said that he believes the Liu resolution will be "a priority for the Speaker."

"I hope that she goes," Wu said of the trip to Oslo for the Nobel ceremony. "I think she will be the closest thing to a head of state that the U.S. government will send."

"I would be pleased if the president or the vice president went," Wu told The Hill. "As an advocate for these [human rights] issues, yes, I wish [President Obama] would go."

Liu will be unable to pick up his award as he's serving an 11-year prison term for "inciting subversion" for helping pen Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto that Smith calls an "amazing and remarkable document." His wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest after the Nobel announcement.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), another co-sponsor, told The Hill that "it would be wonderful" if Obama, who was awarded last year's Nobel Peace Prize, went to Oslo or sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to show support for Liu. He's not surprised at China's threats against attendees: "They're bullies," he said.

But Wolf is "pleased" that Pelosi is reportedly attending. "I think it's good that we have a high-ranking person from the Congress," he said. 

Wolf is holding a press conference Tuesday in the Foreign Affairs Committee room to highlight the resolution and call on the Chinese government to improve its "egregious" human-rights record. Wolf, Smith, Wu and human-rights activists will be joined by likely incoming Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and co-sponsors Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.).

The effort to honor Liu and call out China easily has attracted support from both sides of the aisle.

"It's just something that we can do to support him and encourage him to continue his nonviolent struggle," Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), one of the first two Buddhists to serve in Congress, said. "I wouldn't imagine there would be many who would stand in the way of us recognizing and honoring Mr. Liu for his struggle."

As far as Beijing trying to stand in the way, "I think China's threats are more for internal consumption than of real consequence to its partners around the globe," Johnson told The Hill.

Smith said the congressional effort "sends a clear message that silence toward China's gross human rights violations has to end."

The resolution calls Liu a "political prisoner" and urges Obama to keep working for his release, calls on China to stop censoring media reports about the Nobel prize, and urges Beijing to release the Lius and stop harassing pro-democracy activists.

"In honoring Liu Xiaobo, it also honors all those who have promoted democratic reform in China, including all those who participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstration for democratic reform," the resolution states, adding "that violations of human rights in general, and the persecution of Liu Xiaobo... are matters of legitimate concern to other governments."

Smith said the bipartisan support reflects that "there's been a growing understanding among members on both sides of the aisle that this dictatorship is a growing threat to local stability but also to the world."

"We can't give the Chinese dictatorship a pass any longer on human-rights abuse," he said.

While the lawmakers are united on the significance of Liu's award, they expressed varying degrees of disappointment about White House engagement with China on human-rights issues.

Smith said Obama, along with other past Peace Prize winners including former Vice President Al Gore, should attend the ceremony to show solidarity with Liu and his family. "That would send a message to China that has yet to be sent by this administration," he said.

"The West -- U.S. included -- has not done our part on behalf of human rights defenders," Smith said. "My hope is the whole world will wake up and take notice."

Wolf, who was also critical of President George W. Bush's attendance at the Beijing Olympics, noted that Obama plans to host Hu at a state dinner next month even as the Chinese premier keeps the Nobel winner in custody. "Would you have a state dinner for Mao [Tse-tung]?" Wolf said.

"I think the Chinese will not respect weakness," he said. "I think they only will respond if we push back. They need us more than we need them.

"America just has to be very, very tough on them," Wolf added. "You can be tough and still be courteous."

Johnson said he respected the "wise discretion" of Obama in terms of U.S. representation at the Oslo ceremony. "We do have to recognize the niceties of diplomacy," he said. Pelosi's attendace, he said, "speaks to the seriousness of our commitment to human rights for people throughout the world."

"While we don't want to meddle in the internal affairs of China, which is undergoing its own internal changes in accordance with their own pace ... this is the time to recognize heroic sacrifice in support of human rights in China," Johnson said.

Wu said that measure simply speaks to the reason why he's here in Washington: "Being able to address these civil liberties issues here in the U.S and around the world ... it's the right thing to do."

"People like Mr. Liu are the future of China," said the first Taiwanese member of Congress. "This government in China is failing its people."
 
This Nobel prize is key to inspiring others struggling for democracy and human rights in China, the congressmen agreed.

"Hopefully, maybe not on the immediate horizon, it will begin the process of reform, because light is a good disinfectant," Smith said.