Obama welcomes Liu's Nobel peace prize

WASHINGTON, October  8, 2010 (AFP) - President Barack Obama Friday lauded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, his successor as Nobel peace prize winner, and called on China to release him, in a statement likely to test delicate Sino-US relations.

"I welcome the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr Liu Xiaobo," Obama said in a written statement, issued hours after the Nobel committee's announcement on Liu, a 54-year-old writer and democracy campaigner.

"Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I.

"That list now includes Mr Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs."

The Nobel committee's decision put Obama in a difficult political position, balancing the moral duties of a Nobel laureate against the diplomatic realities of managing US relations with the emerging Asian superpower.

Obama warned in his statement that political reform in the country had not kept pace with explosive economic growth.

"By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law."

Obama noted that over the last 30 years, China had made "dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty."

"But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected.

"We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible."