Liu's ideals, questions are worthy of debate

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2010, 12:00am

Given the enormous prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize, every recipient is a controversial choice. Chinese authorities have criticised the award to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who helped initiate a manifesto for political reform in China, as being an 'obscenity' which violates the spirit of the peace prize. Liu, in their eyes, is a criminal. But President Barack Obama's use of the Nobel Peace Prize platform to advocate 'just war' in his 2009 acceptance speech was no less controversial. The Nobel Peace Prize is, and probably should always be, controversial, for the search for peace takes place in our continuing debate over how it is best achieved.

The awarding of the prize to Liu is now sparking such constructive debate even though the authorities are doing their best stifle it. Activists, friends and family of Liu have not been allowed minimal personal space to celebrate the award in private, as they were rounded up for detention before their celebratory dinner could even commence. The status of Liu's wife, Liu Xia is now unclear and she appears to be under de facto house arrest. Such moves undermine the authorities' position that Liu is simply a criminal. If so, then surely spreading the news of the award, while doubtless irritating to Beijing, is a perfectly legal activity that shouldn't incur official wrath and sanction.

And in any case, shouldn't the ideals advocated by Liu - such as freedom of expression, equality before the law and democratic governance, and non-violent means of promoting them - be worth debating, if not celebrating, by the Chinese people?

The award of one of the world's most prestigious prizes to a man they have imprisoned for subversion is a tremendous challenge for the mainland leadership. The authorities have invoked the 'spirit' of the Nobel. All Nobel Prize recipients, whether they practiced in the field of literature, medicine or economics, have demonstrated the willingness to confront challenges to the world, the state and the individual. Perhaps it is time for the nation, too, to demonstrate that spirit, and openly debate the questions and ideals raised by Liu.