GUEST COMMENTARY: Last week Views and News from Norway ran a commentary from China’s ambassador to Norway, who related his government’s strong opposition to the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Here comes a response, from a reader who’s also an expatriate in Norway:
Let me lay the cards on the table – I am not Norwegian. I can’t even speak the language. I have only been in the country for three months and, although I will perhaps be a citizen one day, I can assure you that I in no way represent the Norwegian state, or speak on its behalf.
Why start with such a disclaimer? Only to distance myself as far as possible from accusations of being a stooge of the Norwegian government. Indeed, it would be as absurd to propose that I represent the views of the Norwegian state as it is to suggest that the Norwegian Nobel Committee – made up of former members of parliament – does the same. And yet this is precisely what the Chinese government has done following the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, cancelling meetings and deals with their Norwegian counterparts in response.
This display of throwing one’s international toys out of the diplomatic pram brings into sharp relief the unreasonable paranoia of the Chinese government. Like all dictatorships, it cannot tolerate dissent, internally or externally, to the point where it is incapable of distinguishing criticism from individuals, organisations or the state in countries where citizens are allowed an opinion that differs from their government. To the ruling elite in China, such criticism becomes an “imperialist” blur to which only ulterior motives can be ascribed; with an grand act of collective self-delusion, members of the Chinese government have become irrationally blinkered to any suggestion that challenges their feeling of entitlement to rule their country as only they see fit.
In his article decrying the Nobel Committee’s decision published here at Views and News from Norway, China’s ambassador in Oslo, Tang Guoqiang, attempted an audacious defense of the Chinese government’s record along these lines. Although the article refers many times to the Nobel Laureate’s apparent “criminal” activities, and claims that he has done “harm” to “the stability and development in China,” it never once elaborates on the substance of the accusations against him, or the charges that have left him languishing in prison.
And quite conveniently so – for were Tang Guoqiang to surrender the details, he would completely undermine his own argument.
So let us be clear what Liu’s “crimes” entail. Liu has been a regular advocate for freedom of expression and association, democracy and human rights in China. He was part of the Charter 08 movement, which simply demanded that the country honour the international human and civil rights treaties to which it is a party. Nonetheless, such ideas are considered so subversive that he has long faced censorship and harassment from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The oppression of Liu has involved the government setting up sentry posts outside his home, imprisoning him in an “education camp” and confiscating his computer, personal documents and even birthday cakes. His wife too has suffered for his utterly peaceful actions, as she now faces house arrest herself in the aftermath of the news of the Nobel Prize. The CCP have even censured the announcement of the Nobel Committee’s decision in an attempt to hide the international reaction from its own people.
All of these actions, which violate binding covenants that China has signed, make Ambassador Tang Guoqiang’s appeal to the rule of law, and castigations of interference into China’s internal affairs,” laughably hollow.
Indeed, the paranoia, control-freakery and authoritarianism of the Chinese state is neatly summed up in one despairingly desperate question that the ambassador himself poses – “How can we allow people to take it all away from us?” This remarkably anxious rhetorical flourish exposes the single-minded, ruthless drive to “development” that China has followed – an obsessive, zealous attitude that sees any consideration for equality, human rights and democracy as a roadblock to “progress.” Furthermore, the “we” (from which nothing may be taken) that Tang Guoqiang is talking about is not the Chinese people as a whole, but rather a small, largely urban elite of business and party apparatchiks for whom Chinese “modernization” has been wonderful, even as it is built on the back of crippling political and social circumstances for the majority of the people.
All this said, I wouldn’t want to be too harsh on the ambassador – after all, he may well simply be following orders, and have strong reservations about the actions of his government that remain private. I certainly wouldn’t chastise him for not standing up to such an oppressive regime – I’m not sure I would have the courage to myself. But that’s precisely the point – the Nobel Prize, if it is to mean anything, should be for those exceptional people who do have the courage to sacrifice themselves for the sake of speaking truth to power. This is precisely why Liu Xiaobo is one of the most deserving recent recipients of the award.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has received criticism from many quarters throughout its rich history, and often for very sound reasons – but, in the case of Liu Xiaobo, they have been absolutely spot on, and both the prize-givers and the Norwegian state should be unflinching in the face of the Chinese government’s pathetic performance of muscle-flexing, bullying and hypocrisy.