|Ethnic Mongolian activist Xinna, the wife of jailed dissident Hada, is seen working in her bookshop in Hohhot in China's Inner Mongolia region. Xinna says that since 1995 she has has endured tight controls and harassment by anxious authorities while publicising the plight of her ethnic Mongolian community under China. (AFP/File/Peter Parks)|
For a regime that cares desperately about its image in the world, China's Communist government is breathtakingly insensitive to how its actions appear to other nations. The result for Beijing has been a truly embarrassing public relations blunder.
If Beijing had just kept its mouth shut, the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo might have passed as just another quirky decision by the Nobel committee. Liu, 54, is largely unknown outside of China and the world of human rights activists. He is serving an 11-year sentence for advocating such heresies as freedom of speech and democratic elections.
But Beijing's reaction to the award was almost comically heavy-handed.
When it failed to bully Norway, where the award is bestowed, by such tactics as breaking off talks on a trade agreement, China resorted to name calling, denouncing the prize as a farce and the judges as clowns. A government brochure said China, with 1.3 billion people, was a big country and deserves a greater voice on world peace than Norway, "a small country with scarce land area and population," which doesn't even rise to the level of a schoolyard taunt.
The Chinese then tried to organize a boycott of the ceremony, using the threat of unspecified "diplomatic consequences." Only 17 nations joined it, including: usual suspects such as Russia, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela; countries such as Pakistan that are heavily dependent on Chinese aid; and countries such as Saudi Arabia, whose own human rights records don't withstand scrutiny. Tellingly, major Asian nations in what China likes to think of as its sphere of influence ― Japan, South Korea, India and Indonesia ― opted to attend the ceremony.
To counter the Nobel Prize, China cobbled together an award of its own, the Confucius Peace Prize. The luster of the honor ― presented Thursday in Beijing ― was somewhat dimmed when the first winner, a former vice president of Taiwan, wasn't there to pick it up, being unaware of both the existence of the prize and the fact that he had won it.
China blacked out the
BBC, CNN and other international
channels during the Nobel ceremony
and cut off Internet access.
Liu was forbidden to attend and the government made sure no one was in Oslo to pick up the award on his behalf. It put his wife and friends under house arrest, exiling other acquaintance to the countryside and preventing anyone suspected of democratic leanings from leaving China.
As was repeatedly pointed out, Liu was the first Nobel laureate prohibited by his country from attending the ceremony since Adolf Hitler barred a German peace activist. Beijing invited unfavorable comparisons with Myanmar's unsavory dictatorship and the Iron Curtain governments of the Soviet Union and Poland that at least allowed the relatives of Aung San Suu Kyi, Andrei Sakharov and Lech Walesa to pick up the prizes of which their countries officially disapproved.
Thus, in Oslo, the Nobel medal and diploma were placed on an empty chair. Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland called for Liu's release and said his absence and that of his family "shows that the award was necessary and appropriate." He received a standing ovation.
The Chinese have an expression for everything, so surely they have one for egg all over your face.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer of Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).