On the eve of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee today reproached China for not showing the equanimity expected of a major world power.
Thorbjørn Jagland, the committee's chairman, said in a press conference that this was not a prize against China, but that China’s status as growing global power brought with it the responsibility to handle debate and criticism, citing US involvement in the Vietnam War as an example.
He added that China needed to combine further economic development with political reforms to avoid a socioeconomic crisis in the country.
“We strongly believe that the world as a whole should be very concerned about the future of China,” said Mr. Jagland. “With its 1.3 billion people, one could say that to a large extent the fate of China will be the fate of the world.”
Amnesty's bid for 100,000 signatures falls short
The Chinese have reacted angrily at Norway for the committee’s decision to award the prize to Mr. Liu, who has been sentenced for 11 years for “inciting subversion of state power.” Beijing sees the prize as a critique against its judicial system and has warned repeatedly that Norwegian-Sino relations would suffer as a result.
Beijing has also reacted sharply at home by cracking down on Liu’s supporters in the weeks following the announcement in October, most recently overnight.
Liu’s wife was put under house arrest and is unable to attend tomorrow’s award ceremony, which will mark the first time in 75 years that a laureate is unable to collect the Nobel Peace Prize.
Several hundred demonstrators led by Amnesty International marched outside China’s embassy in Oslo today in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to deliver 100,000 signatures calling for Liu’s release. Amnesty will also lead the traditional torchlight parade after the award ceremony in honor of the laureate.
Counter-demonstration by Chinese residents in Norway
However, there is expected to be a counter-demonstration tomorrow morning by 100 Chinese residents in Norway against the decision to award the prize to Liu, according to Yaming Yuen, head of the Norway-China Association. He and several other Chinese members delivered a protest letter with 297 signatures earlier this week to the Norwegian Nobel Institute.
Some observers, including the Institute, have called into question the authenticity of the protesters. Amnesty International said it had been informed by reliable sources in the Chinese diaspora that mainland Chinese residents in Norway had been repeatedly visited and called in to meetings over the past two months by representatives of the Chinese government.
“We are shocked that Chinese authorities would bring the oppressive atmosphere of Beijing to Oslo,” said John Peder Egenæs, director of Amnesty International Norway.
19 countries boycott ceremony
China’s pressure tactics are also believed to have influenced the number of embassies attending this year ceremony.
The Norwegian Nobel Institute said 19 out of the 65 embassies had declined to attend the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, roughly twice the average absence rate, following a letter campaign by the Chinese embassy in Oslo discouraging the countries to send their diplomats.
The list of absentees includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Argentina, Cuba, and Morocco.