War of words over a prize for peace

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NEWS ANALYSIS: The Norwegian Nobel Committee isn’t about to retract its Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Chinese authorities remain angry and keen on fighting back, and the Norwegian government is caught in the crossfire  – but with firm loyalty to the autonomy of the committee. The war of words shows little sign of letting up any time soon.

Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, but his government dismisses him as a common criminal. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Chinese authorities continue to crack down on other Chinese dissidents, despite international criticism and calls to release Liu. Some dissidents and human rights activists are under house arrest, others harassed or subject to constant surveillance, according to the Post.

Last week, the official Chinese news bureau Xinhua accused both the Nobel Committee and its chairman, Thorbjørn Jagland, of using the Peace Prize as a political tool. The Xinhua article, apparently a response to a column Jagland himself wrote in the New York Times defending the prize to Liu, ridiculed Jagland and claimed the Oslo-based committee was trying to sabotage China’s progress in recent years.

“Jagland’s arrogance and prejudice can’t deny the fact that China has experienced remarkable progress in both democracy and human rights,” reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), citing Xinhua’s article.

That’s precisely why Jagland has said the Peace Prize to Liu was appropriate, because now China is emerging as a powerful nation and thus must learn to tolerate criticism. The world expects more of wealthy, powerful countries, Jagland believes.

Many thought China would improve its human rights record when it was allowed to host the Summer Olympics two years ago, but activists were disappointed. As one local head of a humanitarian organization said last month, it’s really only the Nobel Committee that can criticize or put such pressure on China.

And so the verbal and written battle goes on. China’s Embassy in Oslo has been busy sending out articles and translations approved by the authorities back home, in which they continue to scold Jagland and the Nobel Committee.

Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland (left), with last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner US President Barack Obama. Obama will be meeting China's president soon. PHOTO: The White House/Samantha Appleton

“They tried to imply that human rights are superior to sovereignty, and that the international community has the right to intervene in in the internal affairs of China,” wrote an alleged group of scholars at the China Institute of International Studies, using the pen name of Guo Jisi. Oslo newspaper Aftenposten ran a Norwegian version of their remarks and published an English version on their website.

The article disparaged the Nobel Peace Prize, calling it “a national award with certain international fame rather than an award showing the consensus of the international community.” It also suggested the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize “to persons aimed at separating China or overthrowing the Chinese Government.”

It remained unclear where and when the war of words would end. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony will go on as planned in Oslo on December 10 and Liu has been named the Nobel Laureate for 2010, although his government writes him off as simply a criminal.

In a curious case of timing, China’s president Hu Jintao will meet last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, US President Barack Obama, at a G20 meeting in South Korea in a few weeks, along with many other world leaders who support the prize to Liu. Hu is likely to feel more pressure from them.

Meanwhile, a Norwegian artist who recently faced censorship in Syria managed to open an exhibit in China last week without the Chinese authorities shutting it down. While several meetings and cultural events involving Norway have been cancelled by Chinese officials, Håkon Gullvåg opened his exhibit in Shenyang. It’s due to move to Shanghai later this month.

“It’s the biggest exhibit I’ve had and it was very well-received,” he told newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend. Another exhibit arranged by the French Embassy in Syria ended with French officials removing two paintings it feared would be offensive, and replaced with written explanations demanded by Gullvåg that the paintings had been censored.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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