China may be a leader in the global economy, but it stands to make significant improvements in the realm of human rights. The recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo is a sharp reminder of the struggle for greater rights and liberties that still exists in China.
We commend the Nobel Peace Prize Committee for taking a brave, well-directed stance in awarding the 2010 Peace Prize to Liu, the imprisoned Chinese political rights activist currently serving an 11-year jail sentence. Naming Liu the recipient of this prestigious award for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” is an important step in recognizing the persistent call for political reform in China. Moreover, it is an encouraging sign for other democratic activists that their ideas can indeed resonate, even from jail.
Liu was jailed in 2008 after co-authoring Charter 08, the “central document of the Chinese human-rights movement,” which calls for greater democratic reform in China. Prior to writing Charter 08, Liu was jailed for participating in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and was sent to labor camp for three years in the 1990s. After fighting on the behalf of human rights and liberties in China for more than two decades, it is appropriate and admirable that Liu’s efforts are finally being recognized on an international level.
Various western countries around the world applauded the Committee’s decision and called for Liu’s release; nonetheless, these governments should be doing more to speak out against China for curtailing many human rights and freedoms. It is understandable that Western policymakers fear ruining trade relations with China—many refrain from criticizing China for fear of economic retaliation—but they should not hesitate to condemn China’s actions. After all, China needs the West just as much as the West needs China when it comes to economic matters.
Because many governments fail to consistently speak out against China’s authoritarian laws, it fell to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to send a strong message of rebuke by awarding Liu the prize. The Chinese government has indicated that awarding the prize to an individual considered a criminal by the Chinese judicial system could adversely affect diplomatic relations with Norway, where the Committee is based. However, the Committee is not officially affiliated with the Norwegian state: As an independent body, the Committee is then in a unique position to recognize Liu’s contribution to human rights where official governments often fall short.
We hope the awarding of the prize can ultimately positively affect China. The government should temper its reaction and instead see this as an opportunity to consider calls for greater democratic reform. Moreover, we hope the Chinese government will consider releasing Liu from prison and giving him and government officials the opportunity to voice their opinions freely in an open forum.
The Nobel Prize Committee made a significant first step in awarding Liu this prestigious award. With the urging of Western countries, China must now listen to activists and seriously work toward creating a freer society for all Chinese citizens.