The decision of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to award the 2010 prize to Chinese human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo, will undoubtedly focus more attention on China’s appalling human rights record, and bring attention to the policies of a regime which is rapidly rising to superpower status, as a result of China’s explosive economic growth over the past 30 years.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner is always a political decision, as it is made by a committee of the Norwegian parliament. In recent years, there have been some distinctly bizarre awards reflecting the politically-correct views of the European intelligentsia, including the peace prizes given to Barack Obama in 2009, to Al Gore and the IPCC in 2007, and to Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary-General) and the United Nations in 2001.
Equally, however, there have been many deserving winners, including Aung Sun Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s democratic opposition, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Lech Walesa when imprisoned by the communist regime in Poland in the 1980s, and the great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov. The Nobel Peace Prize helped focus attention on their plight.
The Nobel committee’s decision was denounced by Beijing which warned that relations with Norway would suffer as a consequence. Such threatening conduct is the reason why the award was made in the first place, and confirms the lack of legitimacy of the Beijing regime.
Professor Liu is a deserving winner. Although little known in the West, he has been at the forefront of the human rights movement in China for over 20 years. Last December, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for calling for the establishment of a multi-party democracy in China and respect for human rights which are supposedly guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.
His background is inspiring. He was a professor at Beijing University and was a leading voice and an influential presence during the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Indeed, his insistence on non-violence and democratic process were credited with preventing far more bloodshed during the subsequent crackdown.
Since then, he has continually been in the forefront of the human rights movement. He has served as the president of the Chinese section of PEN, the writers’ association which works for freedom of speech around the world. It has 250 members in China. He held the public post of president of PEN China for five years.
Its meetings have been disrupted by the authorities, its officers and members are regularly intimidated and subjected to surveillance, and many have been detained and questioned about PEN China’s activities. Professor Liu is one of six PEN members currently imprisoned in China.
He helped draft “Charter 08”, a courageous declaration signed by some 350 Chinese citizens and released in December 2008, calling for the establishment of freedom of speech and the protection of democratic rights for the people of China. Almost all of its signatories have been detained since signing the document, but a further 10,000 Chinese citizens have subsequently signed it.
Based on Charter 77, the human rights document put forward by human rights activists in communist Czechoslovakia in 1977, Charter 08 commences with these inspiring words:
“This year is the 100th year of China’s constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognising that freedom, equality and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance.
“A ‘modernisation’ bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a ‘modernisation’ under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognise universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilisation and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.”
Professor Liu is only the tip of the iceberg of victims of China’s one-party dictatorship. Other human rights activists, lawyers such as Gao Zhisheng and Chen Guangcheng, religious believers, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and Uigurs have all been ruthlessly targeted by the Chinese Communist Party, from whom all power extends.
There are many people in China who want to see their country take its place among the civilised nations of the world. Change in China will come about principally through their actions, rather than from outside. By supporting them, we are also laying the foundation for a better world.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.