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Opinion: The other China

Bilsky Philipp Kommentarbild App
Philipp Bilsky
July 13, 2017

Beijing has been increasingly successful recently in its attempts to boost its image abroad. However, the death of Liu Xiaobo is a reminder that China locks away peaceful dissidents, says DW's Phillip Bilsky.

Liu Xiaobo is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo
Image: AP

The news of Liu Xiaobo's ailing health grew increasingly dramatic in recent days. His liver functions worsened, followed by his other organs deteriorating and, finally, his respiratory system failing. Now, it is over - the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner is dead.

Read more: China's Nobel Peace Prize winning dissident Liu Xiaobo dies

China's best know dissident

Liu Xiaobo was probably the most famous political prisoner in China. He repeatedly pushed for democracy in his country, and was repeatedly jailed for his efforts following the failed pro-democracy protests in 1989. In 2008, Xiaobo was co-authored the so-called "Charter 08" - a manifesto that urged political reform and whose name was a play at "Charter 77" by the pro-democracy movement in former Czechoslovakia.

Soon afterwards, he was sentenced to 11 years in jail for "undermining state power." He was still serving his sentence when he was diagnosed with "advanced liver cancer" earlier this year, prompting his release on medical parole in June.

Philipp Bilsky
Philipp Bilsky heads the Chinese department of DWImage: DW

The People's Republic of China has repeatedly tried to polish its international image in recent months. It started with the speech of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Davos this January, where Xi drew a clear distinction between himself and US President Donald Trump by standing up for free trade.

Beijing also tried to present itself as a trustworthy partner in fighting climate change. And just last week, Xi used the "trump card" of Chinese diplomacy by opening a panda enclosure in Berlin, the cute animals serving as a symbol of the friendly China.

Calling for reform still dangerous

The death of Liu Xiaobo is a clear reminder of a different China. This is the country that still lags far behind the West when it comes to freedom of opinion and the freedom of press. This is the China that locks its citizens away if they dare ask for political reform.