After the Norwegian Nobel Committee embarrassed themselves last year by granting their most prestigious award to an admittedly undeserving U.S. President, it would seem they have restored some of their credibility. On Oct. 8, Liu Xiaobo became the most recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” This decision will prove to be a prudent choice for two reasons. First, it was based on merit—unlike last year. Second, it sends a message to the Chinese government that we in the West stand united in opposition to their trampling underfoot of political freedom.
Liu has a long history of writing and distributing “subversive” material dating back to the infamous Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Some of his more controversial positions seen as too unsavory for the likes of the Chinese public include a call for true democratic elections, support for an increase in government accountability, and the separation of powers. He has also expressed a desire to advance personal freedoms, such as free speech and religion. These views as well as others have landed him in prison on four separate occasions over the past 20 years.
A year following his fourth arrest, Liu was sentenced to 11 years for “spreading a message to subvert the country and authority.” It has been roughly a year since his trial, and despite the various calls for release from both the United States and European Union, the Chinese government has remained firm in maintaining his sentence.
When news of Liu’s nomination spread, The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu responded by saying, “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal… It’s a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the peace prize itself.” And characteristic of the Chinese government, all news of the award was censored throughout the country. Subsequently, a report was carried out by the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua announcing that this decision may harm Chinese –Norwegian relations. I say good for Norway.
Professor Milton Friedman once observed that, “History suggests only that capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom. Clearly it is not a sufficient condition.” And few countries have proved Friedman’s point better than China. Despite all the advances in the realm of economic freedom, it still heavily restricts freedom of speech, press, religion and due process of law.
Some misguided human rights advocates insist that the United States and Europe implement a more restrictive trade policy with China in the form of tariffs and barriers. Instead, what must be done is to actually increase the flow of goods and people between the West and China.
Ultimately it is China who has been tremendously more influenced by us than vice versa. Let’s not forget it took many tens of millions of deaths before they figured out the failures of communism. Perhaps it will take longer still before they realize the superiority of Western political freedom and individualism over tyranny and collectivism.
Until the day the average Chinese citizen enjoys the same liberties as we in the West, we must do whatever we can to stand in solidarity with dissidents, such as Liu Xiaobo.