Nobelity Reaches Chinese Dissident in Jail, Causes Uproar
Liu Xiabo | Credit: Wikimedia Commons
By Ernest Corea
WASHINGTON DC (IDN) – The Norwegian Nobel Committee, whose political instincts are widely recognized, sent a message into China's political and penal systems when it selected jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiabo for the Nobel Peace Prize 2010.
Liu is the first Chinese national to win the coveted award. He is, as well, a strong advocate of democracy, a human rights activist, and a political essayist. An announcement from the committee said that he was selected because of "his long and non-violent struggle for human rights in China."
Only two other laureates have been selected for the prize while serving punitive sentences imposed by their governments: Carl von Ossletzky, a German pacifist (1935), and Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) who remains under house arrest in Burma.
WORK FOR FRATERNITY
The peace prize was mandated by Alfred Nobel who set aside funds for the annual Nobel Prizes and wrote in his will that one part of that legacy should go to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
Purists might argue that by a strict application of Alfred Nobel's definitions the prize would have to be suspended during many years because nobody would deserve it. In fact, the prize has been held back for that reason nineteen times. (Detailed information about the Nobel Peace Prize may be accessed at nobelprize.org).
Neither Nobel nor his advisers could have foreseen a situation in which the award of the prize would be in conflict with the policies of a state. This was clearly the case with Burma, and now it applies to China.
Liu was for quite some time considered the frontrunner for this year's peace prize. Over 100 petitions supporting him were sent to the committee, and bookmakers in Europe are said to have stopped accepting bets on his likely selection because they were overwhelmed by his backers.
When Liu's status as a "favorite" was known the Chinese authorities informed the committee through its secretary of their view that he should not be selected for the award. That was a false move, obviously, perhaps caused by lack of familiarity with how the selection process works. If the committee turned Liu down because of China's approach it would have lost its credibility and its prestige would have been eroded.
Whether its insistence on selecting Liu -- which has caused an uproar among Chinese officials -- will hurt or strengthen Liu's many-faceted human rights causes is a matter of conjecture. His own lawyer is said to have commented that it might cause problems over the short term but would have a positive effect as time moves on.
CONNECTION WITH PEACE
For over two decades, the Nobel Committee's announcement of the 2010 peace prize said: "Liu has been a strong spokesman for the application of fundamental human rights also in China. He took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989; (where he negotiated a safe retreat from the square for a mass of students); he was a leading author behind Charter 08, the manifesto of such rights in China which was published on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 10th of December 2008. The following year, Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison and two years' deprivation of political rights for 'inciting subversion of state power.' Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China's own constitution and fundamental human rights."
The "committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace," the announcement said. "Such rights are a prerequisite for the 'fraternity between nations' of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will."
The announcement acknowledged that China has achieved unequalled economic advances, and that it has raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. China, however, the announcement said, "is in breach of several international agreements to which it is a signatory, as well as of its own provisions concerning political rights. Article 35 of China's constitution lays down that 'citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.' In practice, these freedoms have proved to be distinctly curtailed for China's citizens."
In the light of the unheeded warning, China's angry reaction to the committee's decision was predictable. China's foreign ministry went into something of an uproar claiming that to award the peace prize to Liu was a "desecration." Norway's ambassador in Beijing was summoned to the foreign ministry for the customary reprimand at which the Chinese are considered experts.
A statement from ministry spokesman Ma Xiaoxu described Liu as "a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law." The statement claimed that giving the peace prize to "such a person runs completely contrary to the aims of the prize."
Reports from Beijing said that neither the Internet, nor television and radio broadcasts, nor printed media carried news of the award.
Liu himself, who has no access to a telephone, probably does not know that he is the winner of the 2010 peace prize and that his selection has frayed official tempers.
Meanwhile, 2009 Nobel peace prize laureate President Barack Obama issued a statement welcoming the Nobel Committee's decision to award the peace prize to Liu. Obama said that when he received the award he had noted that "so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I. That list now includes Mr. Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs."
Obama added that by granting the prize to Liu, the committee had chosen someone who "has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law."
"As I said last year in Oslo, even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal to all human beings. Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected. We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible."
Will Obama's statement stir the pot of dissension in bilateral relations? The media raised this question at the State Department’s daily briefing. Here is the question and reply:
QUESTION: …….. I ask you about the Nobel Peace Prize? The President has come out with a pretty strong statement about it, telling -- saying the Chinese should release this guy as soon as possible. I'm wondering if we can expect to hear the same from the Secretary (of State) or from this building, and if there are any concerns that a reaction like this from the U.S. will have any effect on U.S.-Chinese relations, particularly as it relates to cooperation on the currency, economic matters, North Korea.
ANSWER: Well, I do think we'll have something from the State Department and possibly from the Secretary in a short time from now. The President's words stand for themselves. He obviously spoke of Mr. Liu as someone who sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs. He -- who has been a spokesman for the advance of universal values through peace and nonviolent means, and he did call for his release as soon as possible.
As to the broader implications on Chinese-U.S. relations, we've got a broad, mature relationship. And as we’ve said many times, it spans many issues -- economic issues, trade and currency issues, as well as human rights issues. And we're able to talk candidly about human rights with China and disagree on human rights with China but still pursue other constructive channels.
What a commotion over what should be a moment of elation that a son of China has been honoured as a Nobel laureate for the first time. Perhaps this becomes inevitable when broader humanitarian considerations clash with what a state considers its internal business. That may not be an entirely tenable position in today's intricately inter-connected world. (IDN-InDepthNews/09.10.2010)
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