Irish Times on Liu Xiaobo and the stupidity of the government of China’s campaign.

China’s ignoble campaign

Kowtow, keitou (Chinese -Pinyin) – v., to show obsequious deference, fawn; in traditional China, the act of supplication made by an inferior to the Emperor or a superior by kneeling and touching one’s head to the floor.

IN THE two months since the Nobel committee announced this year’s well-deserved peace prize nominee, jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese government has waged an unprecedented diplomatic campaign against the prize, termed “an obscenity”, Liu himself, the committee, “clowns”, the Norwegian government and anyone prepared to endorse the award. Governments have been told there will be diplomatic and trade consequences for joining an attack on “the Chinese people and China’s legal sovereignty”.

The result is that 19 governments, most of them staunch China allies, most with deeply dubious democratic credentials, have kowtowed to Beijing’s bullying and announced they will boycott today’s ceremony in Oslo. The roll of dishonour speaks volumes: Afghanistan, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam. (Serbia’s decision has raised eyebrows in the EU – it has been told it will send the wrong message as an aspirant for membership about its commitment to democratic values. And an embarrassed Philippines president’s office has suggested the foreign minister bounced them into the boycott without asking.)

Ireland’s Ambassador to Norway, Gary Ansbro, will attend, with fellow EU envoys as will the majority of the 65 states with embassies in Oslo.

Liu, a non-violent advocate of democratic reform, is serving an 11-year sentence for essays and an internet manifesto he helped draft, Charter 08, which calls for political and human rights and an independent judicial system. His prosecution is a clear violation of rights “guaranteed” in China’s 1982 constitution which insists “citizens . . . enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association”.

Today, for the first time since 1936, the prize will not be handed over because neither Liu nor members of his family – his wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest – have been allowed to travel to receive it. In recent weeks other Chinese intellectuals have been prevented also from leaving the country. But their absence alone will be eloquent vindication of the award. Instead of demanding obsequious silence, China should free both Lius now.