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China's rivals welcome Nobel for Liu; allies question
WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - Western nations hailed the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo as a reminder of the importance of human rights, while Beijing and some of its allies said the prize had been politicised.
Democracy campaigner Liu, who was jailed late last year for 11 years for subversion, was represented at the award ceremony in the Norwegian capital Oslo by an empty chair after China prevented friends and family from attending.
U.S. President Barack Obama said he regretted Liu and his wife were denied the chance to attend the ceremony,
"The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible," he said. Obama said he respected China's moves to lift citizens out of poverty but that human rights were also important.
China called the award a "political farce" that did not represent developing nations or much of the rest of the world.
"We resolutely oppose any country or any person using the Nobel Peace Prize to interfere with China's internal affairs or infringe upon China's legal sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
At least 19 countries declined to attend the Oslo ceremony on Friday, among them many which bear the brunt of Western criticism over their records on human rights.
But neighbour Japan was among those attending.
"We of course think that it is a very important reward," said Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for the Japanese prime minister's office.
China and Japan have had uneasy relations for decades and in September, Japan detained a Chinese skipper whose boat collided with Japanese patrol vessels near disputed islands.
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan came under domestic fire for appearing to cave in to China's demand to free the captain.
If Kan were to avoid sending an envoy to the Oslo ceremony after Chinese pressure, his weak voter ratings could be undermined.
Shikata, asked about China's complaint that Western countries force their values on others, said human rights should be protected everywhere and brushed aside any suggestion of damage to Chinese ties, saying it was up to individual states.
India, another wary neighbour of China, also dismissed any link between its attendance at the ceremony and ties with China.
"This is not a bilateral question," India's Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is due to visit India next week, with the two countries' growing trade interdependence featuring prominently in talks.
But India's rival Pakistan said it was not attending the Oslo ceremony to show solidarity with old ally China and denounced the decision to give Liu the prize.
"The politicisation of the Nobel Peace Prize for the purposes of interference in the domestic affairs of states is not only contrary to the recognised principles of inter-state conduct but also a negation of the underlying spirit conceived by the founder of the prize," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit.
Vietnam, which like China is often criticised over its rights record, is also not attending. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman suggested the award had a political objective.
"We hope that the Nobel Peace Prize can be given to deserving organisations and individuals, and not be used for political goals," spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said in a statement faxed to Reuters.
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou, however, welcomed the award for Liu and called on China to release him. Taiwan and China have been rivals since the late 1940s when Chinese nationalists took refuge on the island as communists won a civil war.
"Concern for human rights does not distinguish between nationalities and borders," Ma said in comments marking International Human Rights Day.
France and Britain renewed a call for the release of Liu and other jailed human rights activists around the world.
"We have to be resolute and determined in standing up for those who are denied the rights and freedoms we enjoy, while striving to be an inspiring example of them ourselves," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Veteran pro-democracy activist and former Czech President Vaclav Havel praised the role of the Nobel Committee in an open letter to Liu published in Czech daily Hospodarske Noviny.
"The hero of the day is not just you, but also those who awarded you," he wrote.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in Tokyo, Taipei, Hanoi,
New Delhi, Islamabad, London and Prague bureaux; writing by
Robert Birsel; editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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