I said I’d take a look at the response to the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, starting with the government’s reaction.
One of the most interesting things has been hearing from contacts on the mainland of TV screens going black after the announcement was made (although from what I’ve heard, the BBC’s coverage has fared a little better than CNN’s). Darkening screens seems a somewhat clumsy way of censoring, and it’s hard to see how it doesn’t have the opposite of the intended effect by sparking people’s curiosity as to what they’re not being allowed to see. Certainly the blocking of certain keywords like Liu’s name or ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ from search engines including Sohu and Baidu is only going to encourage people to become more creative in their efforts to circumvent the censors.
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The official government response was, as expected, highly critical of the decision. The Xinhua News Agency quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu as saying that the Peace Prize should be awarded to people who make contributions on issues such as advancing disarmament or those who work toward national harmony.
Xinhua continued: ‘Ma said Liu was a criminal sentenced by the Chinese judicial authorities for violating Chinese law.
‘“What he has done is contrary to the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said.
‘The Nobel committee's decision to award such a person the peace prize ran contrary to and desecrated the prize, he said.’
For good measure, the spokesman also said that the decision to award the prize to Liu could hurt China-Norway ties. Of course it’s difficult to see why it should—the committee is independent. And by acting as if it isn’t, the Chinese government, which surely must know better, merely makes itself look ill-informed or out of touch.
Predictably, the response from governments overseas was much warmer. The White House issued a short statement on behalf of Barack Obama welcoming the decision and saying that:
‘By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.’
The statement ended by calling for Liu’s release. It would have been interesting to see if the administration would have been as forthright had Liu been awarded the prize this time last year, at a time when the administration was undoubtedly making more of an effort to accommodate Beijing’s sensibilities.
It’s a shift that Wang Dan, who was one of the leaders of the student protests leading up to the Tiananmen Square massacre, has noted approvingly.
Speaking on what he describes as the new approach on human rights in China by the international community, he was quoted by Kyodo News as saying: ‘In the past it was appeasement. Now it's changing to an active application of pressure…This is a good trend.’
The Christian Science Monitor, though, ran a slightly less upbeat assessment, raising the question of whether the award is likely to antagonise the Chinese government and prompt more arrests of dissidents.
‘Human rights activists in Beijing heard and welcomed the news…“I am so very glad because we are not alone any more,” says Cui Weiping, a democracy advocate who teaches at the China Film Academy. “Our actions are approved and supported by the whole world.”
‘“In the long run…this will encourage Chinese human rights activists to strive for democracy and freedom,” agrees Teng Biao, Liu’s lawyer.
‘In the immediate future, however, he fears that “the government’s control over human rights issues will be even stronger. More activists may be arrested.”’