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Liu Xiaobo and the Nobel Peace Prize—Beijing should seize the moment

by Elizabeth C. Economy
October 1, 2010

A demonstrator holds a picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo during a protest, urging Nobel peace prize recipient U.S. President Barack Obama to demand the Chinese government to release all dissidents, outside the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong October 23, 2009. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

As decision day nears for the Nobel Peace Prize nominations, the Chinese government has gone on high alert. Long-time Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo has once again been floated as a contender for this year’s Peace prize. Liu was trained as a scholar but has made his name by calling for political change—first as a Tiananmen activist and most recently for drafting Charter 08, a wide ranging manifesto for political reform in China. He is now in the midst of serving his third—and at eleven years his longest—prison term.

Thus far, Beijing’s response to Liu’s potential Nobel has been disappointing but unsurprising. China’s deputy foreign minister reportedly threatened Norway…not that Norway has anything to do with the Nobel decisions; and foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu claimed that Liu’s actions are “diametrically opposed to the aims of the Nobel prize.”

Instead of wasting time trying to bully the committee into not awarding Liu the Nobel Peace prize, Beijing should seize the opportunity to ally itself with Liu’s and the Chinese people’s emerging political interests. There are noises for change everywhere in China. Over the past six months, Premier Wen Jiabao has been talking non-stop about the need for real political reform. Hu Shuli, editor of Century Weekly magazine, published a no-nonsense editorial claiming the time for political change is now. And China’s Internet is alive with discussions about the need to match thirty years of economic openness with a similar political push. There is even an online campaign to support Liu’s nomination underway among Chinese scholars and activists.

Liu falls squarely into a Nobel Peace Prize tradition—that of the human rights activist calling for peaceful political reform. Kim Dae Jung, Lech Walesa, and Aung San Suu Kyi are but a few previous such winners. Others such as Vaclav Havel and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu are urging the Nobel Committee to award Liu this year’s Peace prize.

It’s time for Beijing to get on board as well. Awarding Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize would be good not just for Liu but also for China’s continued economic growth, as well as its emergence and reputation as a global power—not to mention for all the other reformers in the country who are ready to come out of the closet.

(Photo courtesy Reuters/Tyrone Siu)
Correction: This post previously misstated Vaclav Havel as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by hsuan meng

    it would be a most interesting and encourging news that Mr. Liu will receive the prize. This will greatly push the call for real politcal reform movement as you have pointed out. If the Nobel peace prize committee is wise, they should follow your recommendation. All Chinese intellectuals will be grateful for their just in-time decesion.

  • Posted by Charles Liu

    Liu Xiaobo is an American spy!

    Liu on the take from US government is a fact. Even our own law (FARA) states financial sponsorship by foreignty entity, in part or whole, substantiates foreign agent status.

    Evidence of Liu taking over a million dollars from US government is publically available – in NED’s China grant publication. Liu started two political organizations, ICPC and Mingzhu Zhongguo, to received funding from a quasi-government entity funded by the US congress.

    Come Liz, this is double standard. Would an American on the take from China advocating abolition of US constitution ever be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize? Heck no.

  • Posted by forgot

    Elizabeth Economy mentioned Havel and Demond Tutu, but left out Dalai Lama.

    Fortunately, Liu Xia (Wife of Liu Xiaobo) is more courageous than you although she lives in China.

    In press interview Liu Xia thanked all three of them for supporting Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel peace prize (Havel, Tutu and Dalai Lama).

  • Posted by Gregory Hetrick

    The government of the People’s Republic of China is fighting a losing battle in its attempts to repress individual political rights. The call from the population of the PRC for a more open society is not going to abate. Rather, the voices demanding more freedoms will continue to grow stronger with the aging of those who are willing to accept keeping quiet so as not to jeopardize the growth of material wealth, combined with the maturation of China’s millennial generation, who will be more inclined to take economic well-being for granted and to expect and/or demand that China become like the rest of the world. If the Chinese Communist Party does not want to go the way of other communist parties, it will have to eventually take the demands of today’s youth into account. It seems questionable that the CCP will make the necessary policy changes quick enough to respond to events. If, or when another Tienanmen-like demonstration occurs, I am afraid that the response of the CCP will be no different than the first time around. The CCP is more concerned with maintaining stability than it is with bringing about change that is both meaningful and timely.

  • Posted by Jack

    What is peace prize by definition – Nobel or whatever it may be called? There are places on earth we all know that need peace. No human being according to any historical records is capable of promoting long-enough lasting peace, as we know. Therefore, no one should be given a prize called peace prize under this criterium. I am sure Nobel himself will not do it himself. The Nobel Committee is not following what Nobel has intended from the beginning. If Mr LiuXiaoBo really wants to contribute to giving peace on this earth, he must choose to create it in those areas/countries that need peace. Without any doubt, he does not have the guts to go there and do that. A peace prize from the Nobel Committee to him, It is simply a joke.

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