New US ambassador keen to see Chinese dissident go abroad

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Beijing (AFP) - The new US ambassador to Beijing, known for his friendship with China's president, said Wednesday he wanted terminally-ill dissident Liu Xiaobo to get treatment abroad, as Taiwan offered to care for the Nobel laureate.

Ambassador Terry Branstad arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, one day after Liu's lawyer revealed that prison authorities granted the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate medical parole after diagnosing him with late-stage liver cancer in May.

Human rights groups have called on Chinese authorities to give Liu, 61, the chance to seek treatment abroad while the US embassy urged Beijing on Tuesday to let him move freely and choose his own doctors.

"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," Branstad told a news conference at his diplomatic residence.

"We as Americans would like to see him have the opportunity to have treatment elsewhere if that is of help," Branstad said.

Asked about the ambassador's remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing: "Since Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese citizen, why should we discuss the matter of a Chinese citizen in prison with other countries?"

Lu said the "duty of the US ambassador to China is to enable and enhance the mutual trust and friendship between the two countries".

Taiwan, however, said it was ready to oblige.

The offer could stoke tensions between China and the self-ruled island, which Beijing sees as a rebel province awaiting reunification.

Chiu Chui-cheng of the Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan's top policy-making body on China, urged Beijing to release Liu and let him choose where he wants to be treated.

"We welcome Liu if he chooses Taiwan and we will provide him with the best medical care possible. Taiwan has very good expertise treating liver diseases," Chiu told AFP.

Chinese dissident Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests living in exile in Taiwan, said he has contacted Germany's foreign ministry in the hope the country would take Liu for treatment.

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

The writer was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for "subversion" after spearheading a bold petition for democratic reforms.

China's state-run Global Times newspaper, known for its nationalist and hawkish views, said that while Liu has "advocated political confrontation", he "deserves sympathy from the humanitarian point of view".

While Liu could "motivate more Western public opinion attacks against China" if he goes abroad, the daily added that "on the other hand, the West will have a decreasing interest in him if he leaves China".

- 'Go-between' -

Branstad, the former governor of Iowa, was confirmed by the US Senate last month and Beijing has praised his "positive role" in Sino-US relations.

The 70-year-old has known Chinese President Xi Jinping since the mid-1980s, when the Asian leader visited Iowa as a provincial official.

"It's important we work together as two countries to address human rights issues," Branstad said.

He said he could use his relationships with US President Donald Trump and Xi to act as a "go-between" on these "challenging issues in the future".

His remarks came a day after the Trump administration placed China on a list of the world's worst human trafficking offenders, a move slammed by Beijing as "irresponsible remarks on other countries' internal affairs".

It marked the first significant rebuke of China's rights record by the Trump administration, which has avoided harsh criticism of Beijing as the president seeks to establish a working relationship over deep trade differences and North Korea's nuclear programme.

"We need to work together to deal with some of the pressing difficult issues such as the threat from North Korea," Branstad said, adding that Beijing and Washington should "work together to denuclearise the Korean peninsula".

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