Liu Xiaobo

Peace Prize a step towards Liu's democracy's cause?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 November, 2010, 12:00am


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For many years after market reform started in the early 1980s, the people and government of the People's Republic waited impatiently for their first Nobel Prize to glorify their scientific and literary advancements.

But the Nobel Prizes they wanted never came, and the ones that did were not wanted - at least, not by the government. Twenty-one years after the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which chooses that prize, announced in October that Liu Xiaobo was this year's winner.

Beijing officials reacted in a familiar and angry manner, denouncing the decision as disrespectful of the Nobel spirit and putting human rights activists and China's cyberspace under even tighter surveillance.

There has been much talk about the political repercussions of the prize in China. A more urgent question is, however, what Liu, and Chinese democracy activists in general, should do with the prize and how they should respond to international support. It is certain that neither Liu nor his wife will be able to accept the prize in Oslo, but he should nonetheless decline it voluntarily - all for the cause that earned him the honour and landed him in jail.

A remarkable man, Liu indisputably deserves the prize for his ceaseless struggle for nonviolent democratic reform over the past two decades. His winning of the prize adds pressure on Beijing to stop its human rights violations. While I believe the combination of domestic and international pressure will eventually result in more political openness and respect for basic human rights, the democratic future of the People's Republic resides in its people alone: they will have to want democracy, believe in democracy and act to advance democracy.

In today's China, having foreign associations can create doubts about a person's devotion to their country.

The road to China's democratisation promises to be long and painful. The Norwegian Nobel Committee may have done the right thing in putting the awful state of human rights in China under an international spotlight, but ultimately the prize will best serve its purpose if left unclaimed.