Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Nobel Stand Against China

Congratulations are in order for Liu Xiaobo for being the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, though it's unlikely that Liu himself knows about the honor since he's currently serving a decade-long stretch in a Chinese labor camp for the crime of advocating for human rights in China. Liu is regarded as China's best-known political prisoner; his life as a dissident goes back to the infamous student-led Tienanmen Square protests of 1989. Arrested and released several times since for his political activities, he has been in jail since December 2008 for his role in authoring a call to the Chinese government to respect basic human rights.

Congratulations too are in order for the Nobel Committee and the government of Norway for not caving into the bullying tactics of the People's Republic – Chinese officials protested vehemently against the campaign to honor Liu with the Nobel Peace Prize and warned the Norway that if he won the award Chinese-Norwegian relations would likely suffer as a result. But as Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland explained: “we have to speak when others cannot speak. As China is rising, we should have the right to criticize ... We want to advance those forces that want China to become more democratic.” Or in other words, if China wants to be treated like one of the leading nations in the world, then that role comes with certain responsibilities, among them are not jailing people for saying things the government doesn't like, not oppressing certain domestic groups based on their ethnicity, and not using your economic clout to bully your neighbors like China recently tried to do with Japan. (For a full explanation of the recent China-Japan diplomatic spat and China's attempt at playing the “resource card” against Japan, check out my most recent post at The Mantle.) It's a simple and worthwhile message, yet one that few governments or organizations seem to be willing to press against China, downplaying any criticism of Beijing in order to maintain access to China's billion-plus consumers, and in the case of the United States, also so that China will continue to buy up American debt. Of course the result of these inactions is an ever more-powerful China that feels it can flaunt the norms of international behavior without fear of repercussions.

Along with Liu himself, it's unlikely on Friday that many other Chinese knew of the honor given to one of their countrymen either – the satellite feeds of the BBC and CNN, which were carrying the Nobel presentation ceremony live, reportedly went dark in China just as Liu's name was being announced.
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