Civil Liberties

Attending Nobel Ceremony Threat to Chinese National Security?


Winner Liu Xiaobo isn't the only person the Chinese government is keeping away from his Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony today. Foreign Policy has the details:

In the days that followed the announcement of the prize, Liu Xia [his wife] managed to circulate a letter expressing her desire to see Liu's friends and supporters attend the ceremony in Oslo; her letter included a list of more than a hundred names: Chinese writers, lawyers, academics, journalists, former party cadres, artists, and NGO activists, many with a distinguished record of patiently and peacefully challenging the limits of the one-party system. But after the letter became public, Chinese authorities informed each of those living in China that they would not be permitted to go. Some have been placed under police monitoring or confined at their homes with a retinue of police officers camping outside their doors. Countless other rights activists across the country have been harassed, summoned for questioning, or detained by the Public Security Bureau or state security officers. (The advocacy group China Human Rights Defender has compiled a helpful list of cases.)

Several prominent figures known for their outspoken views, including world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei, the top legal scholar He Weifang, China's famous criminal lawyer Mo Shaoping, and 80-year old economist Mao Yushi, have been banned from traveling ahead of the ceremony on the rationale advanced by border-security officials that such trips would "jeopardize national security."

This won't necessarily be good for China's diplomacy, of course:

Democratic governments the world over will find themselves under pressure from human rights groups to raise Liu's case as long as he is imprisoned. For years, the reaction of foreign diplomats asked to press Beijing on human rights has been to throw up their hands and claim that they didn't know what they could achieve—but now they know one thing: gaining Liu's release…..

Second, the situation may well create a host of awkward interactions when Chinese leaders travel abroad. Hu Jintao's refusal to hold the customary press conference at the end of his visit to France last month seems to illustrate the Chinese president's fear of being asked embarrassing questions about the imprisoned Nobel laureate.

Third, having become the only country in world with a Nobel Peace Prize laureate currently in prison will hobble China's quest for soft power—which the Chinese government sees as a necessary attribute of a rising global hegemon. Neither the considerable expansion of the Chinese state media abroad nor the multiplication of Confucius institutes—government-funded Chinese-language programs established within foreign academic institutions—is likely to soften China's authoritarian image or make its political system appealing if it keeps Liu in prison for the next decade. Demands for his release are unlikely to decrease over the years, as Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest more than two decades after she received the Nobel Peace Prize demonstrates.