The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, stressed on Thursday that the committee’s decision to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was not an attack on China. Rather, Jagland said, it was a “signal” that it would be “very important” for China to combine its economic reform with some political reform.
Jagland held the annual press conference tied to the Nobel Prize without the winner being present this year. Liu remains in prison in China for his efforts to promote human rights and freedom of expression, which Chinese authorities viewed as a threat to the government’s stability.
Jagland flatly rejected criticism that the Nobel Committee was trying to impose western values on China. He called that “a great misunderstanding,” noting that the human rights encouraged by the Nobel committee are not measured by western standards but by “global standards,” under the provisions of a global agreement on universal rights and values. Jagland noted that China has gone along with the agreement, and that the Chinese people thus should enjoy such human rights and freedom of expression. The Peace Prize to Liu, according to Jagland, is a recognition of the work Liu has done to try to put such rights and freedom into practice.
He noted that the Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize to many human rights activists before. “It was natural for us to now honor a human rights activist from China,” Jagland said at the press conference broadcast live and nationwide by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Jagland said the committee would still have chosen Liu even if it had known how angrily and forcefully the Chinese government would react. In the weeks since the prize was announced on October 8, the Chinese have denounced the Nobel Committee and the Norwegian government (refusing to believe they are two separate entities), cancelled meetings with Norwegian government ministers, postponed bilateral trade talks, cancelled cultural exchange and put heavy pressure on other countries to boycott Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
“I cannot say we expected (the reaction),” Jagland said. “It’s up to China to decide on their own behaviour.” He claimed he hadn’t paid much attention to the Chinese reaction, adding that “there is a lot of lobbying every year” in connection with the Peace Prize. He did admit it was “not normal to get so much pressure” from a sovereign state.
“It remains to be seen after the ceremony, how long (the Chinese anger) will last,” Jagland said, saying the government was also “pragmatic” and wouldn’t want to hurt China’s own economic interests.
Liu’s empty chair at the ceremony is meant to symbolize his forced absence, Jagland allowed, similar to the absence of pacifist Carl von Ossietzky who wasn’t able to attend the ceremony when he won the Peace Prize in 1935, because he was being held in a Nazi prison. Jagland stressed, however, that “there is no parallel to the Nazi regime before the war and the Chinese regime.”
Jagland said the committee has had no information that the prize has worsened conditions in prison for Liu, who remains only the fifth person prevented from receiving his Peace Prize for political reasons. The others were Ossietzky, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, Polish solidarity leader Lech Walesa and Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Sui Kyi.
“I believe the prize will have some influence,” Jagland said, adding that he thinks it at least will be “difficult” for the Chinese to keep Liu in prison for his entire 11-year term. “If the prize isn’t important to the Chinese, why do they care so much about it?
“We are dealing with a China developing very rapidly and lifting millions out of poverty. What we’re doing now is to (hope to) see economic reform develop into political reform.”