Nobel Peace Prize and Chinese Politics

Published on October 14, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize and Chinese Politics

By Nehginpao Kipgen

The National – October 10, 2010

In this multipolar world, the absence of a hegemonic power has both its positive and negative consequences. It is positive in the sense that no single power dominates the international politics, and its negative effect may be the difficulty to formulate a consensus on pressing international issues.

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Nehginpao Kipgen

With its rapid economic growth and advancing political power, maneuvers of the People’s Republic of China have caught the attention of the world, more so than before. China has become the second largest economy of the world during the second quarter of this year, which previously was held by Japan.

As much as it is amazed at the rise of the Chinese economy, the international community, especially democratic institutions, is equally concerned by China’s intolerance on human rights and dearth of freedoms.

When, for the first time in its history, the Nobel peace committee awarded the prize to an imprisoned Chinese democracy activist on October 8, it was a day of motivation and encouragement for rights campaigners. But it was a direct challenge to president Hu Jintao-led communist party’s government.

Despite reported threats from the Chinese authority, Liu Xiaobo was recognized for his unwavering advocacy for human rights and freedoms in the Chinese society.

"China has become a big power in economic terms as well as political terms, and it is normal that big powers should be under criticism," said the peace prize committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland.

The committee’s decision has been welcomed by many, including U.S. president Barack Obama (peace prize recipient in 2009), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama (peace prize recipient in 1989).

However, the Chinese government in no uncertain terms, criticized the Nobel committee’s decision.

"Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law," spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a statement. Xiaobo, who also participated in Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989, was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year.

The diametrically opposing views on giving the award are an indication of the fundamental difference between democratic and non-democratic institutions pertaining to individual rights and freedoms, which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

To the democracy advocates’ point of view, China would have earned greater international respect had it pursued both economic and political reforms simultaneously.

Beijing may have been disappointed, but Liu Xiaobo has joined other former dissident Nobel peace prize recipients – Burma’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in 1983, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in 1975, and German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935.

As long as China remains an authoritarian regime, Beijing will continue to be at odds with democratic establishments, despite its mesmerizing economic prosperity. Whether China can maintain the status quo of suppressing human rights and democracy activists is dependent upon the Chinese people themselves, and the pressures by the international community.

Chinese politics is enmeshed in multipolarity of international relations. So long as Beijing does not subscribe to democratic values, it will continue to remain a target of human rights activists, and other world powers who do not believe in authoritarian ideology.

Liu Xiaobo’s recognition is a boost to the struggle for human rights and political freedom in China, and elsewhere around the world. To the Chinese authority, Xiaobo may be a criminal, but he is a hero and a symbol of hope to democracy activists.

Nehginpao Kipgen is political analyst and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum ( whose works have been widely published in five continents Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and North America. He currently pursues a Ph.D. in political science at Northern Illinois University.

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