Saturday, October 9, 2010

Liu Xiaobo and the Noble Peace Price

China warned the Norwegian Nobel Committee not to honor the democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. The committee didn’t listen. On Friday, Mr. Liu — who is locked in jail on an 11-year sentence for spurious subversion charges — became the first Chinese to win the Peace Prize.

Mr. Liu and the Chinese should be proud. Beijing should be ashamed. On Friday, it said the choice “desecrates” the prize, compounding that shame.

Beijing is used to throwing its weight around these days — on currency, trade, the South China Sea and many other issues. Too many governments, and companies, are afraid to push back. Maybe someone in China’s leadership will now figure out that bullying is not a strategy for an aspiring world power.

Mr. Liu represents China’s best potential future. The 54-year-old scholar, writer, poet and social commentator is an unfaltering advocate of peaceful political change. During the 1989 pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square, he staged a hunger strike, then negotiated a peaceful retreat of student demonstrators as thousands of soldiers stood by with rifles drawn. He has been harassed and detained repeatedly since then.

His most recent arrest — in December 2008 — came a day before a pro-democracy manifesto he helped author began circulating on the Internet. Charter 08 affirmed the importance of freedom, human rights, equality as “universal values shared by all humankind” and endorsed direct elections, judicial independence and an end to Communist Party dominance. The manifesto was on the Internet only briefly before it was pulled by censors, but it still garnered 10,000 signatures.

The Nobel Committee rightly noted that the Chinese government has lifted millions of Chinese from poverty but political change has not kept up with economic reforms.

China’s leaders can continue to repress their people or lead the way into an era of expanded freedoms.

No matter what Beijing says or does, the world will not forget Mr. Liu. It will not forget Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia and all the other jailed dissidents. We honor their courage and their struggle for freedom. New York Times

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