A grand moment from today’s poignant Nobel ceremony, the first since 1936 where neither the Peace Prize winner nor a close relative was permitted to attend. Choosing Liu Xiaobo was the Nobel committee’s way of testing China: After years of economic liberalization, were they ready to make a small concession to political liberalization too? Or would they prefer to follow the Nazi example and keep Liu locked away? We now have our answer; if the award accomplishes nothing else (which may well be the case), there’s at least a bit of extra clarity in that. The only surprise, in fact, is how sustained China’s tantrum over this has been. Instead of ignoring the ceremony, the foreign ministry issued angry statements and demanded (with some success) that its authoritarian allies boycott the award; the Chinese gestapo were deployed to snatch Liu’s friends off the streets; and the government decided to create its own sham “peace prize” to try to sap some of the prestige of the Nobel for Liu. That seems like a bizarre overreaction given western assumptions that the Chinese government has the dissident movement well under control by now. Maybe our assumptions are wrong?
The Telegraph has highlights from the “Charter 08” manifesto that landed Liu in prison, and here’s Obama’s statement this morning acknowledging that Liu “is far more deserving of this award than I was.” Some people are goofing on that as an example of The One once again being self-referential, but I suspect that sentiment will sound much different to Chinese ears than it does to ours. The money quote: “Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.” Indeed. Good for him for saying it, good for Pelosi for showing solidarity by attending the ceremony, and good for the committee for having the stones to go through with this. My expectations for international institutions are so low that I half-expected them to cancel the whole thing once Liu and his family were prevented from attending. Instead, they made a spectacle of China’s thuggery by deliberately presenting the award to an empty chair. Superb.