Nobel pursuit on behalf of China's human rights heroes
With its rapid economic growth and advancing political power, the People's Republic of China has increasingly caught the attention of the world this year. Most significantly, it became the second largest economy in the world during the second quarter of 2010 - a place previously held by Japan.
But as much as the world has been abuzz with the rise of China's economy, the international community, especially democratic institutions, have been equally concerned by China's abusive human rights record and its continuous repression of freedom.
When, for the first time in its history, the Nobel Prize was awarded to an imprisoned Chinese democracy activist last week, rights campaigners had reason to celebrate. But the move was also a direct challenge to President Hu Jintao's repressive, Communist Party government. "China has become a big power in economic terms as well as political terms, and it is normal that big powers should be under criticism," reasoned the peace prize committee chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland.
Despite reported threats from the Chinese authorities, Liu Xiaobo was recognised for his unwavering advocacy for human rights and freedom in Chinese society. Mr Liu, who participated in Beijing's Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year. He joins a list of other former dissident Nobel Peace Prize recipients, including Myanmar's democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991, the leaders of Poland's Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa in 1983, the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in 1975, and the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935.
The award decision was welcomed by many, including the German chancellor Angela Merkel, the US president Barack Obama (who won the prize in 2009), and the Dalai Lama (who won in 1989). However, the Chinese government in no uncertain terms criticised the Nobel committee's decision. "Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law," said the government spokesman Ma Zhaoxu in a statement.
The diametrically opposed views of the Nobel committee and the Chinese government are an indication of the fundamental difference between democratic and non-democratic institutions. For those who advocate democracy and basic human liberties, China would have earned greater international respect had it pursued both economic and political reforms simultaneously. As long as China remains an authoritarian regime, Beijing will continue to be at odds with democratic establishments despite its impressive economic growth.Whether China can maintain the status quo of suppressing human rights and democracy activists depends on the Chinese people themselves, as well as the pressures of the international community.
Chinese politics is enmeshed in the multi-polarity of international relations. So long as Beijing does not subscribe to democratic values, it will continue to remain a target of human rights activists and other world powers who do not believe in authoritarian ideology. Mr Liu's recognition is a boost to the struggle for human rights and political freedom in China and elsewhere around the world. To the Chinese authorities, Mr Liu may be a criminal, but he is a hero and a symbol of hope to democracy activists everywhere.
Nehginpao Kipgen is a political analyst and the general secretary of the US based Kuki International Forum
Published: October 10, 2010 04:00 AM