China’s Mandela Problem

When news broke of Mandela’s death on December 5, China’s state media joined in the global torrent of tributes for the former political prisoner turned beloved president of South Africa. President Xi Jinping praised Mandela as “an accomplished politician of global standing,” while state-owned China Central Television described him as “an old friend of China.” Glaring omissions in those early tributes were references to “freedom,” “democracy” and any mention of Mandela as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

That was no accident. For the ruling Chinese Communist Party, observing Nelson Mandela’s death is a fraught exercise in verbal contortions to distance him from China’s own imprisoned Nobel laureate and advocate for peaceful social change: the writer Liu Xiaobo.

On December 11, China’s state-owned Global Times went on the offensive with an accusation that “Western media” had “deliberately cast a light on the imprisonment of Liu and praised him as ‘China’s Mandela.’” The objective? To deflect from the striking parallels between the globally revered former South African president and the quiet, self-effacing Chinese writer in Jinzhou Prison in northeastern Liaoning province.

But this is easier said than done. Read more here

By Phelim Kine, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Phelim Kine is the New York-based deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.

It’s the Chinese government’s Nelson Mandela problem.




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