Reuters BEIJING/BERLIN (Reuters) — Liu Xia, the widow of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning political dissident Liu Xiaobo, arrived in Berlin on Tuesday, in news welcomed by rights groups who had long pressed for China to let her leave what was effectively house arrest.
Liu Xia, 57, landed at Berlin’s Tegel airport at around 5 p.m. She left the airport by a private exit to circumvent crowds of waiting reporters and activists. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced her arrival on Twitter.
Her departure, following a year of pressure on Beijing from activists and rights groups, comes at the end of a visit to Germany by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, during which the two countries signed commercial deals worth more than $23 billion.
Liu Xia, who left Beijing on a Helsinki-bound flight on Tuesday morning, had gone to “start her new life” in Europe, her younger brother, Liu Hui, said on Chinese messaging app WeChat, according to a screenshot of the message shown to Reuters by a friend who declined to be identified.
Johnny Lau, a political commentator in Hong Kong, said he believed the authorities had let Liu Xia go to avoid her case sparking a “surge” of pressure on China around the July 13 anniversary of her husband’s death.
“Now China has made use of an opportunity to do Germany a favor so as to strengthen the Sino-German relationship,” he said.
China’s foreign ministry said Liu Xia had gone to Germany to seek medical treatment. It has been seeking to bolster its ties with the European Union amid a trade war with the United States.
Germany has been pushing China to let Liu leave following the death of her husband on July 13, 2017, from liver cancer at the age of 61 while in custody, Western diplomats have said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she “could not see any link” between Liu Xia’s departure and the high-level Chinese visit.
“This is not a diplomatic issue,” she said.
Liu Xia, a poet and artist who suffers from depression, had been under house arrest since 2010 when Liu Xiaobo, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests who was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for inciting subversion, was awarded the Nobel.
Liu Xia was never charged but was largely confined to her Beijing home. If she wanted to go shopping, she had to be escorted by police, a friend told Reuters.