Trump, Macron avoid criticism of China over Liu's death

PARIS (AFP) - The presidents of the United States and France praised their Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at a press conference on Thursday (July 13), avoiding criticism of Beijing over Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo's death.

Rather than comment on the Chinese writer and dissident - who died of cancer while under guard in hospital - as they took questions from reporters in Paris, Mr Donald Trump and Mr Emmanuel Macron released warm tributes later.

However during the press event, Mr Trump described Mr Xi as a friend and patriot, saying: "He's a friend of mine. I have great respect for him." 

"We've gotten to know each other very well. A great leader. He's a very talented man. I think he's a very good man. He loves China. I can tell you. He loves China," Mr Trump said. That praise was echoed by Mr Macron, who described as "extremely fruitful and positive" his first contacts with Mr Xi.

The French leader later remembered Mr Liu in a tweet, praising him as "a freedom fighter" and saying his thoughts were with his family.

Several hours later, the White House also released a statement.

"President Donald J Trump was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Nobel Peace laureate and prominent Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo," it said.

"The President's heartfelt condolences go out to Liu Xiaobo's wife, Liu Xia, and his family and friends. A poet, scholar, and courageous advocate, Liu Xiaobo dedicated his life to the pursuit of democracy and liberty." Earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had praised Mr Liu and called for his wife to be released.

"Liu dedicated his life to the betterment of his country and humankind, and to the pursuit of justice and liberty," Mr Tillerson said in a statement.

"I call on the Chinese government to release Liu Xia from house arrest and allow her to depart China, according to her wishes." And the US ambassador to the United Nations, Ms Nikki Haley, called Mr Liu "a true champion for freedom and an inspiration to those longing for democracy around the world".