Monday, December 20, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize (2) - The Economist

Explain in vain
Dec 10th 2010, 8:28 by T.P. | BEIJING

TO HEAR China’s foreign ministry tell it, today’s ceremony in Oslo, in which the Nobel peace prize is to be awarded to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned Chinese dissident, is nothing more or less than “an anti-China farce” orchestrated by “a few clowns” on the Nobel prize committee. Whatever the merits of that complaint, the Norwegians will be hard-pressed to match the atmosphere of farce that was achieved by a hastily organised ceremony in Beijing yesterday. Ostensibly, the Chinese ceremony was designed to honour the recipient of the newly established “Confucius peace prize”.
The winner was Lien Chan, a rather dowdy senior Taiwanese politician who has been at the forefront of recent efforts to improve cross-strait relations. (In November his son, Sean Lien, was shot at a political rally in Taiwan; revenge, some suspect, for his father’s work.) As will be the case in Oslo—but for very different reasons—the recipient was not on hand for the ceremony in Beijing. Indeed, a statement from Mr Lien’s office said that he had never heard of such an award and had no plans to accept it.
Unlike the Norwegians, who plan to mark Mr Liu’s absence with the understated eloquence of an empty chair, the organisers of the Confucius prize ceremony recruited a six-year-old girl as a stand-in for Mr Lien. The young Miss Zeng Yuhan (pictured above) seemed somewhat flustered by the proceedings, in which she was thrust before cameras and handed a beribboned stack of Chinese currency in the amount of 100,000 yuan, worth about $15,000.
The event’s organisers seemed flustered too, as they were able to offer only the fuzziest of answers to even the most obvious questions: just who is this little girl? What is the Chinese government’s involvement in their selection of a winner? To what extent is the prize intended as a riposte to the Nobel committee?
The Chinese government, for its part, has been singularly focused on neutralising the impact of Mr Liu’s selection since it was announced in October. In addition to scolding Norway and promising that its standing with China would suffer, it has mounted a heavy-handed campaign to deter other nations from sending any dignitaries to attend the ceremony in Oslo.
China has vastly overstated its success in this effort, citing the 100+ countries that will not attend the ceremony as proof that most of the world supports its position. In fact invitations were extended to only the 65 countries who keep embassies in Norway. Of those at least 45 have accepted. Those who have declined have done so for a variety of reasons.
At home China’s authorities have taken other steps, mounting a stern crackdown against the already beleaguered community of dissidents, rights activists and critics of the government. Mr Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest shortly after the big announcement, and an extra contingent of security forces were posted to the streets around her Beijing home on the eve of the Nobel ceremony, 7,000km away.
A number of Chinese activists have been stopped from leaving the country in recent weeks, apparently to ensure that none of them wends a way to Oslo to pick up the award on Mr Liu’s behalf. Chinese censors have been more active than usual in recent days, blocking internet news websites and foreign television broadcasts that are usually allowed in.
Mr Liu is a 54-year-old poet and literary critic with a long history of political activism, including a role in China’s massive pro-democracy movement of 1989. He was sentenced on Christmas Day of 2009 to an 11-year jail sentence on charges of inciting subversion. His crime was to have organised and publicised Charter 08, a petition that called for sweeping reform and the liberalisation of China’s stern one-party political system. The petition was launched December 9th 2008, just in time for December 10th, which is Human Rights Day—so designated because it was the date in 1948 that the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Nobel ceremony is scheduled on that date each year for the same reason.
In October, China was quick to blast the Nobel committee for seeking to make a hero out of a Chinese criminal. The award, China's foreign ministry insisted, constituted misguided interference in China’s affairs as well as a violation of China’s judicial sovereignty. China has held to that line consistently over the past two months. Indeed, it is the same rhetorical line China took in 1996, when the European Parliament awarded the Andrei Sakharov prize for freedom of thought to Wei Jingsheng, another Chinese dissident, then in prison. At the time China accused the European parliamentarians of slandering China and committing “violent interference in China’s internal affairs”. China then foresaw “damage to Sino-European relations and eventually to the interests of Europeans”.
Like the EU's ambassador to China in 1996, who tried to explain that “parliaments in Europe do not take instructions from executives”, Norway this year has struggled to convince China that the government exerts no control over the independent Nobel committee. Neither side seems any more likely to accept the other's explanation.

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