The decision to award Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize had me scurrying through a list of past winners and there we have Kofi Annan in 2001 although at the time of writing this I am not too sure why he received the award. No such problems with Obama though and we are told that his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” got him the prize. Well, wasn’t it Clausewitz who said that “war is an extension of politics carried out by other means”? Anyway, let’s tell the people of Afghanistan and anywhere else where America is dropping its bombs that their dead men, women and children are just a reflection of Obama stengthening diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.
Horrifically absurd, of course, but when we read that Arafat, Peres and Rabin were honoured because of their “efforts to create peace in the Middle East”, that Elie Wiesel got it because …. well, I am not really sure why he got it even if he is listed as the Chairman of ‘The President’s Commission on the Holocaust’, an Author and a humanitarian, and that Sadat, Begin and Kissinger are among other past winners, we might seriously doubt the seriousness of this prize. Indeed, the evidence might even suggest that the only logical course for anyone wishing to maintain their credibility would be to decline it. As in fact, Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho did in 1973 when he was jointly awared it with Kissinger. Well, two years later we had NVA troops in Saigon. At least we cannot accuse Mr Tho of hypocrisy.
The West is hypocritical and we might begin to question the motives behind the prize itself even if we shouldn’t doubt Liu’s sincerity, his own personal suffering and his willingness to go to prison for his beliefs. Regarding the West’s motives I will leave this post’s readers to make up their own minds. Nevertheless, we might look at some possible consequences of this award.
While in China I remember having a conversation with my students on a multi-party system only to be told half way through the conversation that they really couldn’t discuss this and that most of them were, in fact, in the Party. These were good people, capable of critical thinking and not only are they in the CCP, but indeed they are the CCP. More recently, I had to supervise a dissertation by a Chinese law student who compared the British and Chinese legal systems, while concentrating on and praising the role of the jury, an independent judiciary and the system of cross examination in Britain. His conclusion was that China needs a similar system. Both this particular student and the many other Chinese students I have worked with have convinced me that this is the generation which will change China and which will see China evolve into a country in which people like Liu Xiaobo will, indeed, have freedom of expression. It is not, I believe, in his interests or in the interests of that young generation that really do have hope for the future, for the hypocritical West to point the finger at China and the Chinese government. Moreover, we can only speculate as to their motives when doing so. Nevertheless, if it is supposed to facilitate speeding up change, we might not only ask would there be resulting chaos and could such change be sustainable, but also who would benefit from the resulting chaos? In my opinion China’s development in all areas is already astonishing and it should be considered for one moment that, while it is to some extent relative, people in China are freer and more prosperous than they have been at any other time in their history. There is, of course, a long way to go but then China has come a very long way since Deng Xiaoping’s “opening up” in 1979.
Finally, there can be, no doubt, that authoritarian governments are worried about people like Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition politician who won the prize in 1995 and Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, the Russian nuclear physicist and dissident who won the prize in 1975, and, no doubt, the Chinese government, which, despite what I have written, is still an authoritarian government, is worried about the extra attention and support that this award will bring Liu Xiaobo. Nevertheless, China today is not Burma or the Democratic Republic of Korea and it is not the Soviet Union in 1975. There is change taking place and while Liu Xiaobo’s fate should concern us all and while we should want to do everything to see him being released, it is neither Liu nor even his Charter 08 organisation that will be the real force for change in China. Of course, we should insist on Liu’s release. However, it is in all of our interests that we encourage change to take place peacefully and for the benefit of everyone and the last thing we should want to do is confront China with standards that are imposed by a self-serving and hypocritical West.