China Seethes Over Nobel Decision, Clamps Down Again

October 10, 2010 - 11:29 PM
Beijing is famously sensitive about Western criticism of its human rights record and state media earlier this year voiced the hope that the Nobel committee would “not be swayed by the ideology of radicals or some anti-China Western organizations.”

Liu Xiaobo protest in Hong Kong

Protesters in Hong Kong call for the release of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on Friday, Oct. 8, 2010.(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

(CNSNews.com) – The Nobel peace prize committee’s stated intention in awarding this year’s prize to an imprisoned Chinese dissident was to encourage reform and help to “set the agenda,” but Beijing’s response has been characteristically combative.

After slamming Friday’s decision as a “disgrace” and warning of its impact on ties with Norway, China’s Communist government over the weekend clamped down on people associated with laureate Liu Xiaobo, including his wife Liu Xia, who was reportedly placed under house arrest after visiting him in prison.

Her mobile phone service and Internet access were also cut and she has been barred from receiving visitors including journalists at her Beijing apartment, according to the advocacy groups Freedom Now and Human Rights in China (HRIC).

the HRIC reported that other dissidents had also reported having had phone connections cut or being held for questioning after attempting to celebrate the award decision.

President Obama, who controversially won the award last year, called on Friday on Beijing to release Liu, saying in a statement the country’s political reform had not kept pace with its “dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people.”

Several dozen U.S. lawmakers from both parties are calling on Obama to make a personal appeal to his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, to free Liu and another prominent dissident, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, when the leaders meet at a G20 summit in Seoul next month.

Liu, a scholar and democracy activist who has been detained at least four times since Beijing’s violent suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations on Tiananmen Square in 1989, was sentenced last December to an 11-year jail term after being convicted of “inciting subversion of state power.”

A year earlier he had led the drafting of a public manifesto calling for political reform in China known as Charter 08 (based on Charter 77, a democracy manifesto written by anti-communist activists in former Czechoslovakia in 1977.)

Signed initially by more than 300 Chinese activists, writers and scholars, the document subsequently attracted the signatures of more than 7,000 Chinese citizens, hundreds of whom have reported harassment as a result.

Nobel prize

Before announcing the winner on Friday, peace prize committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told Norway’s NRK broadcaster that the committee sought “to capture what is happening in the world, identify what we want to encourage … it will be an interesting prize this year, as well, and one that can set the agenda.”

The decision to award Liu was a unanimous one by the five-person committee, whose members are appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

Beijing is famously sensitive about Western criticism of its human rights record and state media earlier this year voiced the hope that the Nobel committee would “not be swayed by the ideology of radicals or some anti-China Western organizations.”

On Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the decision to honor a “criminal” ran contrary to the purposes of the peace prize and its founder’s intentions.

The Communist Party-linked Global Times in a weekend editorial called the move a “disgrace” and recalled that a previous winner of the award was the Dalai Lama, in 1989, while shortlisted candidates have included another jailed Chinese dissident, Hu Jia, and exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer.

"[Many Chinese people] have reason to question whether the Nobel Peace Prize has been degraded to a political tool that serves an anti-China purpose,” said the paper. “It seems that instead of peace and unity in China, the Nobel committee would like to see the country split by an ideological rift, or better yet, collapse like the Soviet Union.”

Referring to Liu, the Dalai Lama, Kadeer and Hu, the Xinhua news agency said that the four “all attempted to sabotage the long-term guiding principles set out by the [Communist] Party, and they have not been well received in China. Rather, some say they have distanced themselves from the public view and are deemed outsiders who hinder economic growth.”

Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo

This undated image provided by Voice of America shows Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who has won the 2010 Nobel peace prize. (AP Photo/voanews.com)

Pressure failed

As they did in the case of the Dalai Lama in 1989 and again in 2006 when Kadeer was nominated, Chinese diplomats this year lobbied the Norwegians not to award the prize to a Chinese dissident, suggesting that bilateral ties could be harmed. Foreign ministry spokesman Ma on Friday reiterated that the decision “will damage China-Norway relations.”

Some who welcomed the 2010 award praised the committee for not being cowed.

Kadeer praised the committee “for standing up to immense pressure from the Chinese government” and urged Beijing to “embrace Liu as a symbol of non-violence, dialogue and responsible governance.”

Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers and a leading critic of China’s one-child policy, applauded the decision to honor Xiaobo “despite China’s threat” that doing so would hurt ties

The NRK quoted Norwegian historian Oivind Stenersen as saying China had not made good on its threats when the Tibetan leader was selected in 1989. Apart from the Chinese ambassador not attending the ceremony there had been no other consequences.

Still, some warn the decision could prove counterproductive.

Bahukutumbi Raman, an Indian-based regional security analyst and China scholar, said there was a debate underway in Chinese leadership circles on the need for some type of “political restructuring” following economic restructuring, with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao at the forefront.

Honoring the dissident at this time could “rekindle fears of an externally-inspired attempt to destabilize the country” and strengthen the hands of those opposed to restructuring, he said.

Raman conceded that the restructuring being discussed did not envisage the end of Communist Party rule.

“When Wen and others speak of the need for political reforms, they do not mean the winding-up of the one-party rule as fondly hoped for by human rights activists in the West, but the identification and eradication of the negative aspects of the one-party rule.”

The award ceremony takes place in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the award’s founder, Alfred Nobel.

Liu will not be the first laureate not able to accept the award in person. At least seven previous winners have not, either because they were not free to travel – as in the case of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991 – or for other reasons.