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Opinion

President Obama: Call your own Nobel summit, and send China a message

Jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiabao will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this Friday in absentia. As a Nobel laureate himself, President Obama must take a clear stand on China's human rights abuses. On Friday, he should host a 'freedom summit' with other Nobel laureates.

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Such a meeting would draw worldwide attention to the human rights situation in China and elsewhere around the globe. The agenda of this “freedom summit” should highlight each democracy champion’s experience in tackling the challenges of despotism and, even more important, the international community’s role in their respective fights for freedom and recognition for the oppressed.

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Obama's clear message to China

In awarding Liu the prize, the Nobel Committee sent a clear message to China’s Communist leaders. After 60 years in power, 30 years of Western support for China’s economic and military modernization, and the international honor of the 2008 Olympics, Beijing must deliver its long-promised political reform.

But recent US administrations have temporized with China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington and Beijing would have to “agree to disagree on human rights” so as not to disrupt the bilateral relationship in the current global economic crisis. Similarly, Mr. Obama has downplayed his predecessor’s initial democracy “crusade.”

In announcing the president’s prize, the Nobel Committee made clear it was based on promise rather than accomplishment: “Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened. Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”

Related: Nobel peace prize for Liu Xiabao: a boost for democratic ideals in China

In accepting his award, the president rejected the possibility of excusing human rights violators “by the false suggestion that these are somehow Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation’s development.” China is the main purveyor of that argument.

In his speech, Obama also deplored the human rights depredations in Burma, Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Iran, and said “there must be consequences.” On the United Nations Security Council, China has prevented or delayed the consequences in each of these situations.

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