Liu Xia finds freedom in Germany after Merkel presses Beijing to release her


Eight years after being placed under de facto house arrest despite committing no crime, Liu Xia 刘霞 — the widow of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波 — left China on Tuesday morning, boarding an 11 a.m. Finnair flight from Beijing to Berlin. Her plane transited in Helsinki, where the above photo was snapped by AFP.

  • Not coincidentally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang 李克强 in Berlin shortly before Liu was allowed to leave.
  • During Li’s visit, “Germany and China signed a raft of commercial accords worth some 20 billion euros ($23.5 billion) on Monday, with their leaders reiterating commitments to a multilateral global trade order despite a looming trade war with the United States,” according to Reuters.
  • Liu’s release seems to have been part of the deal. Germany appears to be the only country of the traditional West that is still prepared to make human rights issues part of its conversations with China.
  • On June 1 in this Access member newsletter (unpaywalled for non-members today), we noted: “Police have reportedly promised Liu that in July, after the politically sensitive month of June — particularly for the remembrance of a June 4, 1989, protest leader like Liu Xiaobo — and after the first-year anniversary of her husband’s death, she would finally be free to leave the country.”
  • Her brother, Liu Hui 刘辉, who was previously incarcerated on trumped-up fraud charges, is still in China, and observers worry the Chinese government will use him as leverage to keep Liu Xia quiet now that she herself is free.  
  • Our report on her flight from Beijing is here, or follow the links below for coverage elsewhere:
    • “Never an activist herself, Liu Xia’s life in the public eye has been defined by her marriage to her late husband… But Liu Xia’s poetry makes clear that despite long separations and political strife, their private life together was defined by devotion and lasting love.”  —Inkstone
    • “It looks like a signal from Beijing that they recognize that during this period, they need Germany as someone who affirms their willingness to be a responsible player on the world stage,” said Kristin Shi-Kupfer, director of public policy research at the Mercator Institute for China Studies. “Because of the U.S. trade war, China seems to have the sense that they need more reliable and supportive partners in Europe.” —Wall Street Journal (paywall)
    • “After Ms. Merkel’s visit to Beijing in the spring, the Chinese authorities let the Europeans know that if Ms. Liu’s case was not publicized, her release would be possible, a European diplomat with knowledge of the case said.” —New York Times (paywall)
    • “We noticed that Liu Xia’s brother Liu Hui still remains in the country, just like a hostage. Liu Hui was previously sentenced to 11 years for so-called fraud, and used to pressure Liu Xia to stop speaking out about Liu Xiaobo, he was released on medical parole, but his sentence could be carried out at any time…”  —Hong Kong Free Press