Keeping silent on Liu’s death

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Keeping silent on Liu’s death


On July 14, the day after Nobel Peace Prize winner and Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo passed away, I asked the foreign ministry about our government’s position on the death. I received answers like “under review” or “in discussion.” Later that evening, I was told, “The Korean government is well aware of the path he took. We pray for him to rest in peace and convey condolences to his family.”

But it did not include explanation or evaluation on “the path he took.” It did not mention Liu’s name either.

There have been no other official statements, comments or public remarks by high-level government employees. The foreign ministry sent the two-line comment to those who inquired about the government’s position.

Liu Xiaobo was China’s highest intellectual and conscience, who did not yield his belief in democracy and human rights until the last moment.

But the Korean government did not openly express condolences for him. Korea’s candlelight protestors surprised the world and a new administration was born from the people’s power. A former human rights lawyer is now the president, and an internationally renowned human rights expert is the foreign minister. But we remained silent on the death of Liu who fought for democracy and human rights in China.

It reminded me of another bitter memory. In 2010, after Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize by the Nobel Committee, the Chinese government pressured countries not to attend the award ceremony. Korea had its Ambassador to Norway attend the event as was customary, but the process was controversial. Outside figures were called in for advice and a representative with a lower position than the ambassador was considered to attend the event. That gave the international community the impression that Korea wants to take into account China’s stance on human rights.

Was China grateful for Korea’s consideration? Will China stop retaliating against the Thaad deployment because the Korean government refrained from publicly speaking up on Liu Xiaobo’s death? The answer is easy to guess.

The economic and political relationship with China should rightly be valued. However, we need to show that there are values we need to stand by at any cost.

Norway faced retaliation from China for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu with a ban on salmon imports, but they did not bend their principles. It did not exchange salmon for human rights. What values would we never give up?

JoongAng Ilbo, July 17, Page 29

*The author is a political news reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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