Nobel Upsets Chinese Diplomacy

CHINA
Nobel Upsets Chinese Diplomacy
By Antoaneta Becker

LONDON, Oct 8, 2010 (IPS) – Europe delivered a lesson in universal values to outraged Beijing on Friday, awarding the world’s most prestigious peace prize to a jailed Chinese dissident, who had boldly called for political reforms in the communist country.
The announcement of the Norwegian Nobel Committee provided an upset ending for a week of public diplomacy by China in Europe. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had toured European capitals showering goodwill and lucrative investment deals for cash-strapped European economies.
But if there was ever any speculation that the allure of China’s burgeoning market and its development model can make the West forego universal values such as freedom and democracy, it evaporated with the award given to one of China’s most courageous dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Liu won the 2010 Novel Peace Prize in recognition of “his long and non- violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China,” said the announcement. By highlighting Liu’s peaceful fight for democracy the committee rebuked China’s ruthless suppression of political dissent, and reminded Beijing that “China’s new status must entail increased responsibility” in safeguarding basic human rights.
Liu Xiaobo, a 54-year-old scholar and writer, is a thorny reminder for the Chinese communist party of its tarnished and unredeemed past. In 1989 he was one of the protesters who staged a hunger strike in the ceremonial heart of Beijing, Tiananmen, attempting to avert a violent end to the peaceful pro- democracy demonstrations.
Liu is also a symbol of China’s still flickering democratic movement, which after years of suppression continues to hold out hope that those universal values will prevail over the country’s authoritarian system.
In 2008 just months after Beijing staged a dazzling Olympic Games, Liu was the leading figure among hundreds of liberal intellectuals who published an online manifesto calling for sweeping political reforms. The petition was modeled on Charter 77, which became the rallying call for the human rights movement in communist Czechoslovakia in 1977.
Released on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Charter 08’ delivered an unmistakable rebuke to Beijing’s efforts to assert its own values and for it to argue that Chinese people prefer affluence to freedom.
China faced a choice, the manifesto argued, of maintaining its authoritarian system or “recognising universal values, joining the mainstream of civilisation and setting up a democracy.”
Liu was detained immediately, and after being held in custody for a year jailed for 11 years for “inciting subversion of state power.” Some 12,000 people have put their signatures to the petition since.
Beijing reacted with fury to the announcement. A statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website called the award a “desecration” of the Peace Prize and a choice that goes against the aims of the award. It called Liu a “criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law.”
In the weeks before the award was announced Chinese diplomats had been issuing warnings about diplomatic trouble if the prize went to Liu. The statement Friday warned the choice of Liu as winner will hurt China’s relations with Norway, the country where the Nobel committee is based.
Inside the country there has been a total news blackout on the fact that the prestigious award has been awarded for the first time to a Chinese citizen. Liu’s choice is particularly hurtful to Beijing because China has a “Nobel Prize” syndrome, always sulking that its illustrious civilisation and rising stature on the global scene have not been properly recognised.
“Every year around this time there is so much speculation whether China will be finally recognised with a Nobel Prize,” said Zhao Hongli, a Beijing intellectual who took part in the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations and remembers Liu from those days. “The news will quickly filter through and I hope there will be a revival of the Tiananmen legacy.”
Catherine Baber, Deputy Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International, said the award can only make a difference if it “prompts more international pressure on China to release Liu, along with the numerous other prisoners of conscience languishing in Chinese jails for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
Beijing’s fury at Liu’s choice mirrors the time in 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when the Nobel Peace Prize went to the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. The Dalai Lama won the prize for his peaceful pursuit of genuine autonomy for Tibet, sparking accusations by China that the West supports what Beijing calls his “separatist cause”.
The Dalai Lama was among the first to congratulate the jailed Chinese dissident for winning the prestigious award. “Awarding the Peace Prize to him is the international community’s recognition of the increasing voices among the Chinese people in pushing China towards political, legal and constitutional reforms,” the Dalai Lama said in a statement on his website.


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