Not so noble

Print edition : November 05, 2010

THORBJOERN JAGLAND, CHAIRMAN of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, holds a photograph of Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Institute in Oslo on October 8. The Chinese government has reacted angrily at the decision to award the prize to Liu.-ALEKSANDER ANDERSEN/AP

The Nobel Committee's selection of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo for the Peace Prize stirs up a controversy.

THE award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to the prominent Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo is yet another instance of a politically motivated decision by the Nobel Award Committee. Other controversial recipients of the top prize have been the likes of Henry Kissinger and Menachem Begin. Kissinger played a key role in the Vietnam War, in which more than a million Vietnamese were killed. Le Duc Tho, who was nominated along with Kissinger for negotiating an end to the Vietnam War, refused to accept the prize. Kissinger also had a hand in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile and the propping up of brutal military regimes in South America that were responsible for the killing and disappearances of thousands of civilians.

Begin was a leader of a terror outfit that played a key role in the creation of the Zionist state of Israel. He and the Likud Party, of which he was a founder member, laid the groundwork for Israel's settlement and apartheid policies, which have continued unabated to this day. Begin shared the prize with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt after both of them initialled the Camp David Agreement of 1978. The accord signalled the capitulation of Egypt to the West and the breaking up of Arab unity. Egypt became the first Arab country to recognise Israel, encouraging other countries to do likewise.

Last year, the Peace Prize was awarded to President Barack Obama even as he was busy escalating the war in Afghanistan and dramatically increasing drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Nobel Committee stated that Obama was given the Peace Prize for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. So far, he has not even been able to make the Israeli government, which is the biggest recipient of U.S. aid, stop its illegal construction on the occupied territories. Meanwhile, under his watch, the occupation of Iraq has continued.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, outspoken as usual, compared the choice of Liu to that of Obama. Both the choices, he suggested, were politically motivated.

For that matter, many governments, including those of India, Brazil and Russia, have chosen to be silent over the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident.

Mahatma Gandhi was among many deserving candidates overlooked for the Peace Prize. All the same, many deserving candidates did win the coveted prize. Martin Luther King, Jr, was given the prize in 1964 when he was leading the fight to end racial segregation in the U.S.

Earlier, Albert John Luthuli of the African National Congress was awarded the prize, putting the international spotlight on the apartheid regime in South Africa. Bishop Desmond Tutu got the prize for his role in the anti-apartheid struggle in 1984. Nelson Mandela shared the prize in 1993 with the last apartheid era President of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk.

Before that, detained Myanmarese leader Aung San Suu Kyi was given the Nobel in 1991. She continues to be in jail, with the Myanmarese army merrily adopting its own political blueprint for the country. The award of the prize in 1996 to Cardinal Carlos Belo and the politician Jorge Ramos Horta of East Timor helped pressure the Indonesian government into ultimately granting independence to the former Portuguese colony.

At the height of the Cold War, prominent dissidents in East Europe were given the coveted prize. Lech Walesa, a trade union leader plucked from obscurity by the West, is one illustration. The electrician from Gdansk went on to become the first President of Poland after the collapse of the socialist government.

The collapse of socialism in Poland led to a domino effect, with other East European countries following suit and ultimately leading to the collapse of the socialist bloc.

The Nobel Prize for Literature has also generated a lot of controversy through the years. Dissidents from the socialist bloc, like Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, were regularly chosen for the honour from the 1960s onwards. In 2000, the exiled Chinese writer Gao Xingjian, who had called for political reform in his homeland from his new home in France, was given the prize.

This year the Literature Nobel has gone to Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian writer known for his right-wing ideological tilt. He is a critic of the left-wing governments that are in power in most of Latin America today. But his fiction is appreciated all over the world.

U.S. PRESIDENT Barack Obama with his Nobel Prize medal and citation. The award to him, in 2009, too had come under criticism.-BJORN SIGURDSON/AFP

Even Chavez, who has been constantly criticised by Llosa, has not uttered a word so far against the Nobel Committee's decision. But Llosa, true to form, singled out Cuba and Venezuela for attack in his first press conference following the announcement of the Literature Prize. Llosa himself had run for the presidency in Peru and lost. He then took the unprecedented step of giving up his Peruvian citizenship for a Spanish citizenship.

The Nobel Committee had lent a helping hand in the ideological battle waging at the time between the socialist bloc and the West. The timing of this year's Peace award for Liu could signal the start of a renewed diplomatic and political onslaught on China as it seeks to gain economic and military parity with the U.S.

Chinese reaction

Predictably, the Chinese government has reacted with fury at the decision to award the Peace Prize to Liu. It was evident for some time that the Nobel jury had decided to bestow the prestigious honour on Liu. Beijing had warned the West in general and the Norwegian government in particular that there would be political repercussions if Liu was given the top honour. Liu, who is currently behind bars and is described as a criminal in the Chinese media, rose to prominence during the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989.

Even many of his fellow dissidents, exiled in the West, had expressed misgivings about the Peace Prize being awarded to him, accusing Liu of being a publicity seeker and an agent of the Chinese government. The most prominent Chinese dissident, Wei Jingsheng, currently in the U.S., has expressed his protest to the Oslo Committee about the choice of Liu for the prize. Exiled Chinese dissidents have said that the Nobel Committee could have found a more popular candidate from among the ranks of the dissidents.

Liu has been openly calling for a change in the political system in China and for the introduction of Western-style politics. He has been in and out of jail since 1989. Two years ago he was arrested for helping in the drafting of a manifesto named Charter '08. The Charter, a copy of Charter 77 that was drafted by the Czechoslovakian dissidents led by Vaclav Havel, openly called for radical political reforms that would have made the role of the Communist Party of China redundant.

The Dalai Lama, another Nobel laureate, was among the first to praise the decision of the Nobel Committee to give Liu the prize and called on the Chinese government to release Liu immediately. The Tibetan spiritual leader said that the Nobel Peace Prize for Liu was recognition by the international community that China is in urgent need of reforms.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989, when China was embroiled in a political crisis triggered by the Tiananmen incident. The Chinese leadership was very upset at the time when the award was given to someone who they regard as a splittist a code word for a separatist.

The West milked the Tiananmen incident to the utmost, describing it as a massacre. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) exaggerated the numbers of those killed in the crackdown. The figures that were bandied about in those days, based on CIA reports, were more than 20,000 killed in the capital alone. However, Uli Schmetzer of Chicago Tribune, who was a first-hand witness to the events, has written that not more than a thousand people lost their lives. Schmetzer came to this conclusion after visiting hospitals and the relatives of those injured.

The Chinese authorities are viewing the Peace Award to Liu as the most serious intervention by the West in the country's internal affairs since the Tiananmen incident. Many Western governments had downgraded diplomatic ties with Beijing after the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Prize.

The Chinese government has said that the award to Liu is a desecration of the Nobel Prize. Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law, an official statement of the Chinese said. While announcing the prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee emphasised that despite the Chinese government's success in lifting millions of people out of poverty, basic freedoms were curtailed.

Thorbjoern Jagland, chairman of the five-member Nobel Committee, said that Liu had become the foremost symbol of the human rights movement in China. Jagland, a former Norwegian Prime Minister, is known for his penchant to court controversy. He recently said that it was necessary for the outside world to keep an eye on China and to debate on what kind of China do we want to have. The Chinese authorities have interpreted this statement as a clear case of interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country.

President Obama hailed the decision of the Nobel Committee and called for the immediate release of Liu. He said that the award was a reminder that political reforms in China had not kept pace with economic expansion. The U.S. administration is currently putting pressure on China to devalue its currency and give the U.S. Navy freedom to navigate the South China Sea. China's neighbours have also ganged up, with tacit U.S. support, to assert claims over disputed islands and atolls in the South and East China Seas.

Double standards

Significantly, the double standards of the Obama administration can be gauged by the position it has taken on the trampling of democracy in Thailand. The brutal suppression of the Red Shirts on the streets of Bangkok and the denial of fundamental rights have been glossed over. In other parts of the world, the Obama administration has supported the overthrow of elected governments and propped up authoritarian kingdoms and regimes.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, speaking a week after the Peace Award was announced, said that politicians from many countries were using the occasion to politically malign China. This is not only disrespect for China's judicial system but also puts a big question mark on their true intentions, he said. If some people try to change China's political system in this way and try to stop the Chinese people from moving forward, that is obviously making a mistake.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor