Anger as Philippines says will skip Nobel ceremony
AFP – Thursday, December 9SendIM StoryPrint
MANILA (AFP) – – The Philippines confirmed on Thursday it would skip the Nobel peace prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo following pressure from China, triggering anger from human rights advocates.
The decision by one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies to stay away from Friday’s event in Norway comes as it seeks to build stronger military and economic ties with communist China.
“It is confirmed that there will be no Philippine official at the ceremony,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Eduardo Malaya told AFP.
He said Manila’s envoy to Oslo, Elizabeth Buencuceso, was out of Norway on an official consular mission.
“Our ambassador to Norway has a scheduling conflict,” he said.
However two senior government officials who did not want to be named said the move was meant to appease China, which had repeatedly warned governments around the world that ties would be harmed if they attended the ceremony.
China reacted furiously to the decision by the Nobel Committee to award this year’s peace prize to Liu, who was jailed for 11 years last December on subversion charges after calling for reform of one-party communist rule. Related article: US pressured China to release dissident: cables
“We do not want to further annoy China,” said a senior diplomat at the Philippines’ foreign affairs department who asked not to be named.
President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman, Herminiano Coloma, declined to comment when contacted by AFP about the decision, referring all queries to the foreign affairs department.
But another presidential palace official said Aquino “did not want another irritant” in his government’s ties with China.
The Philippines has been working hard to repair diplomatic ties with China following the botched ending of a bus hijacking incident in Manila that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead in August. Related article: Rights groups push for Nobel laureate’s release
The Philippines is also seeking to buy military hardware from China — the nation’s armed forces chief, General Ricardo David, is in Beijing this week on a procurement mission.
Trade between the countries has been expanding since the 1990s, with China now the Philippines’ third largest trading partner next to the United States and Japan.
Human Rights Watch said it was “shocked and disappointed” at the Philippine decision, especially as the country had always been a leading supporter of Myanmar’s democracy heroine Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a Nobel laureate.
“The Philippines prides itself on its democratic values, which is why it is shocking to see this government turning its back on Liu Xiaobo’s non-violent struggle for free expression in China,” said Elaine Pearson, the group’s deputy Asia director.
“By declining the invitation to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Philippines is failing to live up to its promises to promote human rights in Asia.”
Lawyer Harry Roque, chair of the Manila-based Center for International Law, also expressed outrage.
“We should not have allowed China into bullying us not to attend the ceremony. This is an abdication of our moral duty to the world as the source of people power, of liberal democracy,” Roque told AFP.
“That was a regrettable decision, because in effect what we did was to support an affront on freedom of expression.”
Calls to the Chinese embassy spokesman in Manila went unanswered on Thursday.
Vietnam and Afghanistan are other Asian nations to have declined to attend Friday’s ceremony in Oslo. Related article: Pressure mounts on Serbia to reconsider Nobel boycott