By Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd
BEIJING (Reuters) - China invited medical experts from the United States and Germany to help treat dissident Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo for cancer, a local government announced on Wednesday, in a softening of its stance ahead of this week's G20 summit in Germany.
Liu, 61, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power" after he helped write a petition known as "Charter 08" calling for sweeping political reforms.
He was recently moved from jail to a hospital to be treated for late-stage liver cancer.
The hospital, in the northeastern city of Shenyang, made the decision at the request of the family and in consultation with the doctors already treating him, the Shenyang Bureau of Justice said in a short statement on its website.
It provided no other details. Officials who picked up the telephone at the hospital said they were unaware of the case.
A German government spokesman confirmed that a German doctor was part of the team treating Liu and that Berlin was in close contact with the Chinese government on the issue.
"The Chinese government told us yesterday about their willingness to allow treatment for Mr Liu including access to foreign doctors, including a German specialist," government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
"We very much welcome this and are still pushing for a humanitarian solution," Seibert said.
A source close to Liu's family said the invitation was a positive step that greatly increased transparency around Liu's illness and the chance that he would receive the best possible treatment available.
"The fact that they specially chose the U.S. and Germany suggests that the authorities are considering allowing Liu to travel to one of these two countries," the source said, although there were still questions about how the doctors would be chosen and what access they would have.
Asked if the move would lead to Liu leaving the country, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular briefing: "We hope other countries can respect China's judicial sovereignty and not meddle in China's internal affairs."
TIME "RUNNING OUT"
Rights group Amnesty International said the move appeared in part "an attempt to limit international criticism" even as the government continued to refuse to allow Liu to be treated overseas.
"Time is running out for Liu Xiaobo," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general.
"It is not too late for the authorities to end this cruel farce. They must let Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, travel abroad to get the medical treatment he so desperately needs."
The U.S. embassy in Beijing declined to comment. Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad said last week the United States would like to see Liu treated elsewhere for his cancer.
The move comes ahead of President Xi Jinping's attendance at a summit of the Group of 20 nations in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday and Saturday, where Xi will seek to project Chinese leadership on issues such as climate change and free trade.Diplomatic sources in Beijing say China has been nervous the issue over the Nobel Peace Prize winner could overshadow Xi's appearance.
An open letter by a coalition of rights groups, including those representing Tibetans and Uighurs, on Wednesday urged G20 leaders to press China for the unconditional release of Liu and his freedom to travel.
"Liu Xiaobo's 2010 Nobel Peace Prize illuminated the human and political rights of the people under China's rule, and created a real sense of hope," the coalition said.
"We urge you not to let that sense of hope fade."
The government has said Liu is getting the best care possible and is being treated by renowned Chinese cancer experts.
However, a growing number of Western politicians and international rights activists have expressed concern about the quality of Liu's treatment and say he should be given the choice to leave China if that was the best option.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has met Chinese officials regarding Liu, a spokeswomen said on Tuesday.
Chinese authorities told diplomats from Germany, the United States and the European Union on Friday that Liu could not be moved abroad due to his condition, sources briefed on the matter have told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Paul Tait and Gareth Jones)