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The Monitor's View

Nobel Peace Prize for Liu Xiaobo: a boost for democratic ideals in China

The timing was perfect for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Communist Party meets next week and Obama will be in Asia next month. The prize gives oomph to talk of political reform.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / October 8, 2010

Perfect timing. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to China’s leading democracy advocate, Liu Xiaobo – on the eve of events that could well shape the future of China as an emerging superpower:

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Top Communist officials will gather in Beijing Oct. 15-18 for a party plenum that could result in crucial decisions on political reform and future leaders.

And in the next few weeks, President Obama and his top security officials will travel to Asia for critical summits that will help define China’s role in the world.

In giving the peace prize to China’s leading dissident – Mr. Liu is now serving an 11-year prison sentence – the Norwegian Nobel Committee provided a strong reminder: The world expects China to start acting as a responsible global leader. And that means embracing human rights and political freedoms, as many Asian nations have already done.

Liu stands as a potent symbol for those universal ideals in China. The former literature professor also strongly promoted the use of peaceful means for political change.

He first gained notice in 1989 after saving lives during the military crackdown on pro-democracy student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. But he really stirred China’s rice bowl in 2008 by organizing a movement around a 4,000-word document called “Charter 08.” For that act he was jailed.

The manifesto was modeled after “Charter 77,” a document issued in 1977 by intellectuals in Czechoslovakia asserting the principles of democracy for one of the Soviet-bloc countries then under communist rule. Such idealistic statements were crucial in bringing down the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union.

And it may be the same force of ideals that also eventually ends one-party rule in China.

“By departing from these [universal] values,” the Charter 08 document reads, “the Chinese government’s approach to ‘modernization’ has proven disastrous. It has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse.”