With just a week to go before the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 is formally conferred, in absentia, on Liu Xiaobo, a prominent Chinese dissident, at Oslo City Hall on December 10, India is yet to take a call on a Chinese demarche asking countries around the world to boycott the ceremony.

A number of senior officials told The Hindu that their own view was that India should attend the ceremony this year, just as it has been doing in the past. But a careful review of the issue is, nevertheless, being conducted at the highest levels of the government before a decision is taken. One complicating factor is the planned arrival in New Delhi of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao a few days after the Oslo function.

Liu Xiaobo was given the prize ““for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Last month, the Chinese government asked India and others not to send representatives to witness the investiture, warning that attending the ceremony would have repercussions on the bilateral relationship, and possibly impact Mr. Wen's visit. The Chinese view is that Mr. Liu, who is serving an 11-year sentence for “subverting state power,” is a “criminal.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry officials recently told Indian Ambassador to China S. Jaishankar that China wanted India to boycott the ceremony. Chinese officials have met with diplomats from almost every country in recent weeks, conveying the same message. Among those who have said they will stay away are Russia and Pakistan.

The Foreign Ministry told The Hindu in a statement that China was opposed to any country “making anything out of the issue,” indicating that participating in the ceremony would be tantamount to intervening in China's judicial sovereignty. “We have a clear stance on the issue of Liu Xiaobo and the Nobel Peace Prize,” the statement said. “We oppose anyone, in any means, to intervene in China's internal affairs and to hurt China's judicial sovereignty.”

The statement added that China “would like to cooperate with India to promote a sound and stable bilateral relationship.”

‘Will damage ties'

The Foreign Ministry did not directly respond to questions on how the bilateral relationship would possibly be affected if India sent a representative to the ceremony. But diplomats from several countries have told The Hindu that they had been warned by Beijing that attending the ceremony would “damage” ties. In some instances, diplomats were also told that Chinese companies would be instructed to either cut or reduce trade links.

China has suspended negotiations over a free trade accord with Norway over the issue. “It is difficult to maintain friendly relations with Norway as in the past,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said on Thursday.

There is still uncertainty over whether the ceremony will take place. Mr. Liu is in jail, while his wife, Liu Xia, has been barred from attending the ceremony and is under effective house arrest in Beijing.

Other political activists who Ms. Liu has nominated to attend the ceremony have also been barred from travelling to Oslo.

One option the Norwegians are reportedly considering is awarding the prize to two empty chairs, symbolising the incarcerated Liu and his absent wife.