So, this past Friday in Oslo, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was barred by Chinese authorities from attending the ceremony at which he would have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Here are three takes on the same non-event where concerned Westerners wrung their hands and lamented the state of human rights in China:
1. From the New York Times:
Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, [adds] that China [needs] to learn that with economic power [comes] social and political responsibility.
“We can to a certain degree say that China with its 1.3 billion people is carrying mankind’s fate on its shoulders,” Mr. Jagland said in a speech at the [Nobel Peace Prize] ceremony. “If the country proves capable of developing a social market economy with full civil rights, this will have a huge favorable impact on the world.”
Translation: I’m convinced we’re screwed unless we find a way to rationalize trade with the Chinese. But the human rights Liu Xiaobo is fighting for are a moral issue not an economic one. I will therefore split the baby by invoking the notion of a “social market economy,” the Middle Way between socialism and capitalism. That way we can have our almond cake and eat it too.
Getting a recalcitrant population to acquiesce to a market economy on the state’s terms is a gentleman’s game requiring a delicate touch not an iron fist. And China is being, well, gauche, n’est-ce pas?
“Today, the House of Representatives is congratulating Liu Xiaobo on the Nobel Peace Prize and sending a clear message of support for human rights and democracy in China. We do this in recognition of the importance of the relationship between China and the United States, that we have many issues where we have common ground or where should seek common ground. But all of that is better served by candor in our friendship and not ignoring sore spots.
“We continue to call for Liu Xiaobo’s immediate and unconditional release, and for the Chinese government to listen to the many Chinese citizens who are calling for human rights and freedom in China.”
Translation: I can safely refer to the most egregious abuses of human rights—the denial of basic freedoms, the jailing of thousands of dissidents and their families, and the torture of Falun Gong members—as “sore spots” because the American public isn’t paying attention and half of them wouldn’t be able to locate China on a map anyway.
So, who’s mixing the martinis?
Editor’s note: Before we move on, I need to get this off my chest: It’s a mystery to me why our leaders bother with these effete upbraidings. After all, by many accounts, our policy of constructive engagement with China has been enormously successful. Over the past several decades we’ve learned some important lessons from the Chinese about denying due process and using state-sponsored torture to strengthen national security. And while the US government does not control the media, we’ve succeeded in concentrating ownership of it into the hands of an ever-smaller fraternity of elites. China, for its part, has embraced capitalism and is deeply grateful for an American public sated by its purchases of cheap Chinese goods. Not too long ago, China Security and Surveillance Technology, a company that installs surveillance systems for the Chinese security apparatus, was the first Chinese company to join the New York Stock Exchange. According to Terence Yap, then-vice chairman and chief financial officer:
his company’s software made it possible for security cameras to count the number of people in crosswalks and alert the police if a crowd forms at an unusual hour, a possible sign of an unsanctioned protest.
Sounds like a growth industry to me, both in China and in the West, as an increasingly restive population begins to form crowds at unusual hours in unsanctioned places for allegedly nefarious purposes.
3. Stay away from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, urges China. Here’s its officially sanctioned rationalization:
Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Dec. 25, 2009, after a Beijing court convicted him of violating Chinese law and engaging in activities aimed at overthrowing the government.
“We urge relevant U.S. lawmakers to stop their wrongdoing on this issue, change their arrogant and rude attitude and show due respect for the Chinese people and China’s judicial sovereignty,” said Jiang.
... Jiang said earlier that more than 100 countries and international organizations had expressed support for China's stance.
“Justice lies in the heart of the people,” said Jiang.
This man Liu is a convicted criminal for God’s sake!
China is betting that world leaders will be more concerned about their own hold on power than about the ultimate disposition of their immortal souls. The argument seems to have worked for at least 19 countries and sent a frisson of terror through many more, judging from the anemic statements coming out of Oslo.
Meanwhile, let's enjoy those everyday low, low prices while we still can.