US hopes Liu Xiaobo can be treated outside China, envoy Terry Branstad says

Mr Terry Branstad speaking to the media in front of his residence in Beijing, China, on June 28, 2017.
Mr Terry Branstad speaking to the media in front of his residence in Beijing, China, on June 28, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Bloomberg, AFP) - The US would like ailing Chinese human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo to have the chance to seek cancer treatment elsewhere, ambassador Terry Branstad said.

The former Iowa governor told reporters on Wednesday (June 28) in Beijing that he hoped the US and China could work together to address Liu's medical parole. The 61-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has been released from prison and is being treated for late-stage liver cancer at a university hospital in northeastern Liaoning province, his lawyer said on Monday.

"It's very serious," Mr Branstad said in his first public remarks since arriving at the US Embassy.

"Obviously, our heart goes out to him and his wife and we're interested in doing what can be done to see if it's possible. We Americans would like to see him have the opportunity for treatment elsewhere, if that could be of help."

Liu's lawyer Mo Shaoping told AFP that people on medical parole usually cannot leave the country, but if he was treated as a "special case" it would be possible for him to seek treatment abroad, according to Chinese law.

Mr Ye Du, a Guangzhou-based pro-democracy activist, told South China Morning Post Liu was visited by his wife and younger brother Liu Xiaoxuan a week ago in the Shenyang hospital in Liaoning province where he is receiving treatment.

The family told Ye, a close friend of Liu Xiaobo, that they were under “intense pressure”.

“Everyone is being closely monitored and they’ve been ordered to keep quiet by the authorities as of today,” Mr Ye was quoted as saying by SCMP.

“His condition is very severe, and targeted therapy is unlikely to work for him. His best chance is probably getting a liver transplant but we can’t see that happening in China.”

US members of a congressional commission on China have urged President Donald Trump to intercede so that Liu can receive care in the US.

But a short video released by Liu’s wife Liu Xia appears to suggest that any kind of treatment for her husband’s terminal illness is futile.

An emotional Liu says in the 10-second video circulated on Twitter: “He cannot have surgery. No radiotherapy. No chemotherapy.”

Liu was detained in 2008 for being one of the authors of "Charter 08", a pro-democracy manifesto that calls for an end to one-party rule in China. He was sentenced in December 2009 to 11 years in prison for inciting subversion of state power.

In 2010, Liu was represented by an empty chair during the award ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize, which made him China's most famous political prisoner. The Liaoning Prison Administrative Bureau posted a statement later Monday confirming that Liu had been diagnosed with liver cancer and had recently been granted medical parole. It said a team of eight well-known oncologists were now treating Liu.

The Norwegian Nobel committee awarded Liu the peace prize for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China". In response, China suspended ties with Norway and froze free-trade talks, hurting sales of Norwegian salmon in the world's most populous country.

The two nations only mended fences last year.

It is regrettable that it "had to take a serious illness for the Chinese authorities to release him", the Nobel Committee in Oslo said in a statement on Monday.

"The committee hopes he will now be unconditionally freed and given the opportunity to obtain the best possible treatment for his illness, whether it be in China or abroad," it said.

"Finally, we want to remind that Liu Xiaobo has a standing invitation to come to Oslo to receive our praise."