China Power

Nobel Prize Ceremony Cancelled?

China’s refusal to let anyone collect dissident Liu Xiabao’s Nobel Peace Prize has echoes of 1930s Europe.

Well, not exactly by the look of it. But China still seems likely to (kind of) get what it wanted after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Obviously the government’s first choice would have been for Liu not to have been named the winner at all, and it certainly did its best to try to make sure it didn’t happen. But with diplomatic arm twisting having failed to head off the result (and it’s hard not to think it wouldn’t actually have had the opposite effect), China has been vigorously lobbying other countries not to send representatives.

And now, it seems, parts of the ceremony will have to be dropped. According to Nobel rules, the expected 10 million kronor (about $1.7 million) award can only be collected by the winner or a close family member. However, China has Liu’s wife under some sort of house arrest, while his brothers appear to have been prevented from leaving the country to collect the award on his behalf. Norwegian Nobel Committee Secretary Geir Lundestad has reportedly said no other relatives have announced that they will be going to Oslo for the December 10 ceremony, meaning that the Nobel diploma and medal probably won't be handed out then.

Unprecedented? Not exactly. Back in 1936, there were no family members available to accept the award on behalf of Carl von Ossietzky, a journalist and publisher of the magazine Weltbühne. Ossietzky himself was unable to attend the ceremony because he was being detained by the Nazis after being awarded the 1935 prize the same day as the winner of the 1936 prize was announced.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Clearly, China isn’t Nazi Germany (despite what former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe implied last month). But just as the United States should surely ask itself whether it wants to be keeping the company it does on the death penalty (only China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia executed more people last year), you’d hope the Chinese leadership might squirm a little at being the last regime since the Third Reich to successfully prevent anyone from being able to collect the award.

For anyone wondering about China’s pressure on other countries not to attend or face unspecified ‘consequences’, the list of those who won’t be sending a representative reportedly now consists of: Cuba, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Russia (which come, respectively, 191st, 144th, 169th, 146th and 175th on Freedom House’s latest Press Freedom Index).

What was it I was saying about the company we keep?