Nobel Prize

and the Price of Peace

- KK

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. China termed the award a calculated affront, and with Liu Xiaobo in prison serving an 11-year sentence and his wife under house arrest, the prize was awarded to an empty chair.
That the Nobel Peace Prize more often than not carried a political charged message is nothing new. Last year’s award to US President Barack Obama was calculated to boost the US’ bid for renewed prestige and credibility after the universally condemned Bush era. The choice of Xiaobo is very likely inspired by the intention to delegitimize Communist Party-ruled China as an authoritarian regime. If so, however, China has walked headlong into that trap.
Liu Xiaobo, associated with the Tiananmen protests of 1989, is an advocate of political reforms to bring China in line with Western-style liberal democracy. His Charter 08, for which he was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009, advocates a gradual path of reform including property rights and multi-party democracy. It is unclear if his proposals enjoy widespread support among Chinese people. In a media interview in Hong Kong in the late 1980s, Xiaobo is also said to have spoken approvingly of colonialism’s role in Hong Kong’s development and prescribed “300 years of colonialism” for China. Such views are likely to be out of sync with the strong anti-colonial sentiment in China.
In China, spectacular capitalist growth in the economy is accompanied by continuing oversight and direction as well as political control by the CPC. Behind the clamour by the US and other capitalist countries for ‘democracy’ in China is the hope that this contradiction between China’s increasingly neoliberal economic trajectory and its communist-ruled political structure could be sharpened to push for wholesale capitalist restoration in that country. However it must also be recognised that China’s market reforms in the economy are providing a material basis for demands of commensurate political reforms as well. For China to deal with that contradiction by muzzling the advocates of such change is to play into the hands of its detractors. By imprisoning Xiaobo, pressurising various other countries to boycott the Nobel ceremony and preventing Xiaobo’s wife from receiving the award in his stead, China has obliged its opponents with the most potent symbolic weapon they could have hoped for.
It must also be recognised that it is not only advocates of capitalist political reform that have been muzzled in China – it appears that even voices highlighting the growing social disparities too have been similarly suppressed. Not long ago, a man whose five-year-old son was poisoned by toxic milk in China was sentenced to jail for setting up a website to organise other parents against melamine poisoning. Workers’ protests too are known to meet with repression. The same repressive stick has been wielded to deal with popular outbursts at regional and cultural disparities in Xinjiang and Tibet.
The Nobel episode also unavoidably highlights the hypocrisy and double standards of capitalist liberal democracies. Even as Obama and others express pious outrage at how China treats its dissidents, they have all participated in the manhunt for Julian Assange, the founder of whistleblower website Wikileaks which blew the lid off the horrific war crimes that were the daily feature of the wars and occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. A 22-year old US solider, Private Bradley Manning, languishes in prison on suspicion of having leaked documentary evidence of war crimes to Wikileaks, including a video of US soldiers deliberately firing from the air to kill unarmed civilians in Baghdad. Even as the Nobel ceremony was underway in Norway, neighbouring Sweden was partnering the US in its bid to hunt down and silence Assange.
Liu Xiaobo is on record to be an enthusiastic supporter of Bush, reviled the world over by peace-lovers as a warmonger; he has hailed the US’ war in Vietnam, as well as its more recent aggressions in Afghanistan and Iraq. (see box) A strange choice indeed for a Nobel Peace Prize! Had the Nobel Committee really wanted to give a powerful contemporary message of peace, surely a more suitable candidate for the Peace Prize would have been Manning or Assange, for exposing the real face of war to people all over the world at the cost of personal liberty? 

The double standards are no less visible here in India. How would the Indian state and mainstream media, quick to castigate China on Xiaobo and Tibet, have responded were Irom Sharmila, that powerful icon of protest against the Indian state’s war on its people, to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

Do Supporters of Liu Really Know What His Politics Is?

(excerpts from an article by Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong, The Guardian,, 15 December 2010) 

In recent weeks, Nobel prize-winner Liu Xiaobo's politics have been reduced to a story of a heroic individual who upholds human rights and democracy. His views are largely omitted to avoid a discussion about them, resulting in a one-sided debate. ...
Imprisoning Liu was entirely unnecessary. If Liu's politics were well-known, most people would not favour him for a prize, because he is a champion of war, not peace. He has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he applauded the Vietnam and Korean wars retrospectively in a 2001 essay. All these conflicts have entailed massive violations of human rights. Yet in his article Lessons from the Cold War, Liu argues that "The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights … The major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible." During the 2004 US presidential election, Liu warmly praised George Bush for his war effort against Iraq and condemned Democratic party candidate John Kerry for not sufficiently supporting the US's wars:
[T]he outstanding achievement made by Bush in anti-terrorism absolutely cannot be erased by Kerry's slandering … However much risk must be endured in striking down Saddam Hussein, know that no action would lead to a greater risk. This has been proven by the Second World War and September 11! No matter what, the war against Saddam Hussein is just! The decision by President Bush is right!
Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel's stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as "often the provocateurs".
Liu has also advocated the total westernisation of China. In a 1988 interview he stated that "to choose westernisation is to choose to be human". He also faulted a television documentary, He Shang, or River Elegy, for not thoroughly criticising Chinese culture and not advocating westernisation enthusiastically enough: "If I were to make this I would show just how wimpy and spineless the Chinese really are".... Harvard researcher Lin Tongqi noted that an early 1990s book by Liu contains "pungent attacks on the Chinese national character". In a well-known statement of 1988, Liu said:
It took Hong Kong 100 years to become what it is. Given the size of China, certainly it would need 300 years of colonisation for it to become like what Hong Kong is today. I even doubt whether 300 years would be enough.
Affirming this sentiment in Open magazine in 2006, he added that progress in China depends on westernisation and the more westernisation, the more progress.... 
Liu, in his "Charter '08", called for a Western-style political system in China and privatisation of all enterprises and farm land. Not surprisingly, the organisations he has headed received financial support from the US government's National Endowment for Democracy.... 
Nowhere in the post-communist or developing world has there been the fair privatisation Liu claims to seek. Privatisation in Eastern Europe often led to massive thefts of public property by oligarchs and became deeply unpopular, with strong majorities of people in all post-Communist countries wanting its revision. Privatisation is also disliked in India, Latin America and China itself, while studies of privatisation in many parts of the world show it can have a deleterious effect on development. Land privatisation in China would rapidly create land concentration and landless peasants.

Forty years ago, a Nobel Prize committee upheld formerly imprisoned writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn as a symbol of freedom against the Soviet regime. As with Liu, it may have been unaware of or chose to ignore Solzhenitsyn's classically reactionary views: his own version of authoritarianism, an animus toward Jews, denunciation of the US for not pursuing the war in Vietnam more vigorously, condemnation of Amnesty International as too liberal, and support for the Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco.