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Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, holds a photo of her husband during an interview in Beijing October 3, 2010. The university professor and democracy advocate is among the favourites to win the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.PETAR KUJUNDZIC

For nearly two decades, no Western leader or foreign minister could pass through Beijing without paying at least lip service to the students who were shot and killed in 1989 on Tiananmen Square.

Now, just when China's leaders had convinced the world to move on and focus instead on their growing trade relationships with Beijing, there's a new cause celebre: the fate of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

Though Beijing has reacted furiously to Mr. Liu's award - saying the Norwegian Nobel committee was "encouraging crime" by honouring Mr. Liu, who last year received an 11-year jail term for his part in drafting the pro-democracy manifesto known as Charter 08 - Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon became the latest foreign dignitary to put Mr. Liu's case on the agenda.

Mr. Cannon wouldn't give details of how the conversation went on Friday with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, but said that he raised Mr. Liu by name and mentioned Prime Minister Stephen Harper's statement following the Nobel Prize announcement. Mr. Harper said at the time that Beijing should "look seriously" at releasing the 54-year-old former university professor.

"Suffice it to say that I raised it," Mr. Cannon said. Though he refused to characterize how Mr. Yang responded, the unsolicited advice clearly wasn't appreciated.

"The Chinese made their response known and I think that we'll leave it at that. They made their response and Canada made its position clear," Mr. Cannon said.

Mr. Cannon said he came to Beijing primarily to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Before his meeting with Mr. Yang, the two men toured a photo exhibit of previous Canada-China meetings that was on display in the lobby of the Foreign Ministry building.

Though China has sought to punish the Norwegian government over the Nobel Peace Prize - cancelling ministerial meetings and cultural exchanges - Beijing will likely have to get used to such pressure over the case of Mr. Liu, who joined Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov on the short list of Nobel laureates who were in prison when they won the prize.

Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder explicitly called for Mr. Liu's release ahead of his own visit to Beijing. "The case of Liu Xiaobo is an unfortunate one given his status and his recognition by the Nobel committee," Mr. Holder said during a stop in Hong Kong. "I think it's incumbent upon the Chinese government to react in an appropriate way and consistent with its international treaty obligations and to release him."

After meeting with Chinese officials, Mr. Holder said Beijing and Washington were in "fundamental disagreement" over Mr. Liu's case. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders have called for Mr. Liu's release.

Rather than reconsidering Mr. Liu's sentence, the ruling Communist Party has escalated pressure on his fellow dissidents since the Nobel committee announcement on Oct. 8. Several prominent activists have been placed under escalated detention or surveillance, and Mr. Liu's wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest without access to her mobile phone since being allowed to visit her husband in prison to tell him he had won the Nobel Prize.

Mr. Liu's lawyer, Shang Baojun, said in an interview Friday that the foreign pressure was welcome, but admitted he wasn't sure whether it would help his client get released from jail. "I don't understand why, but the government has turned so stubborn and won't listen to anyone."