by Ian de Stains OBE
It is sad but not surprising that China reacted so negatively to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to one of its most prominent human rights activists. A distinguished literary critic and respected academic, Liu Xiaobo is one of China’s most important hopes for its post-economic status. He has, however, been silenced by the 11 year jail sentence he is currently serving — not his first — because he has upset the Beijing bullies who would rather keep the Chinese people in the dark about their human rights than behave like a responsible member of the international community.
China’s leaders now strut proudly about the world stage. Their economy is strong yet they are defiant when requested to cooperate in currency management in the broader global interest (including, ultimately, their own). They show all the signs of wanting to behave like every other grown up economy until they are pressed for action. Now, they throw all their toys out of the pram because an outside agency has managed to highlight just how lacking they are in moral wealth.
The fact that the Chinese authorities had lobbied to try and stop the award being given to Liu only emphasizes the fact that they find it inconceivable that a body such as the Nobel Committee can wield such power and act independently of government control. Beijing’s summoning of the Norwegian Ambassador Svein Saether — no doubt to receive a long harangue about China’s sovereignty — was a futile gesture that underscores yet again that the Nobel Committee’s point was entirely missed.
Not, however, by the great majority of people — enlightened Chinese among them — who would like to see China earn its place at the top table of democracy. China’s economic achievements over the past decade and more have been impressive to say the least, and there is no reason to believe that what lies ahead will disappoint. Unless, of course, it is a digging-in of Chinese heels and a refusal to learn the rules of international statesmanship. No one likes a bully, and ultimately bullies never prevail. They are always in the last resort shown up for what they really are: hollow men.
Beijing’s petulant response to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to one of its citizens may not entirely erase the goodwill many feel for China’s emergence, but it will erode it. It will also, ironically, endow the award — and its recipient — with an even stronger sense of meaning and purpose.
Ian de Stains is the Executive Director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The views expressed in this column are strictly his own and are not necessarily endorsed by or shared by the Chamber.