The Nobel Peace Prize: A Spark to Fuel Democracy in China?

Angus Duncan questions whether awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo will help, or hinder, Chinese democracy.

In early October 2010 the Nobel Committee announced that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 was pro-Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, for his ‘long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China’.  As expected, the award was heavily criticised by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who called the decision an ‘obscenity’, and continued to shut down any signs of dissidents linked to the award. Liu is currently serving an 11 year sentence for his Charter 08 which called for greater democratic reform within China.

Many of Lui’s close supporters and pro-democracy activists claimed that Lui’s Nobel Peace Prize would provide a huge boost to morale to China’s pro-democracy movement and once again ignite a strong pro-democracy movement within China.  Is this really the case, will the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize help fuel China’s call for democracy? I think not.

The first reason is that Lui largely remains unknown within China. The silence and secrecy surrounding Lui and the Nobel Peace Prize stands as a testament to the CCP’s tough censorship laws and tight control.  Research has suggested that the average person in China doesn’t know who Liu Xiaobo is.

Quickly after Lui was announced as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, China’s cyber police and media censors swung into frantic action to prevent its 1.4 billion citizens from hearing that the event had occurred. The CCP embarked on a sweeping crackdown on dissidents with scores of Chinese citizens being detained, placed under house arrest or prevented from traveling to the awards ceremony in Oslo. In many parts of Beijing and Shanghai, news broadcasts about the prize on foreign channels were blocked. Text messages mentioning Liu’s name were difficult to send, while internet discussion on the announcement was tightly controlled.

Close supporters of Lui were either closely monitored and harassed by police, confined to their homes or prevented from giving interviews to the media.  Even Lui’s wife, Lui Xia, was put under house arrest under the watchful eye of the communist police. The justification for this lockdown according to the CCP is that talk regarding Lui would, ‘jeopardise national security’ Those that did get around the censors did so at their own peril

However, of real concern to everyday citizens was the risk of losing one’s job. Anyone who joined Liu’s cause for democracy placed their job security in jeopardy. Such risk was of real concern to citizens, especially in wake of an ever increasing unemployment rate, since the CCP still controls and influences many of China’s industrial decisions. Thus, one’s participation in the democracy movement would result in loss of the necessities of life, including food and shelter. For many, the risk was far too great and so they kept quiet.

Therefore, if a majority of the population are unaware of who Lui is, let alone that he won the Nobel Peace Prize, how could this have any influence on them wanting to pursue a more democratic way of life? It wouldn’t. Put simply, how can you say something in a nation blind and oblivious to what’s going on around them?The effect of such tight controls and censorship was that the CCP was able to minimise the significance and legitimacy of the prize, while also denying Chinese democracy activists a platform from which speak about the country’s dictatorial rule and dismal human rights record.

Despite what has been said so far, tight control and censorship is justifiable and necessary within a diverse nation of 1.4 billion people stretching over a land mass of 9.6 million square kilometers. At present the CCP’s central goal is to maintain domestic and international stability through which to achieve and continue its economic success. The CCP believes that stability is best achieved through central control and censorship in order to shut down those attempting to destabilise the country.

So far the CCP has been highly successful in achieving this. Within the last 30 years China has experienced unprecedented rapid economic growth. Its GDP is an estimated $8.767 trillion, exports are valued at $1.194 trillion and imports are valued at $921.5 billion.  China has quickly gone from a backward, weak agricultural economy to the second largest economy in the world.

The effect of this on citizens is that millions of people have been pulled out of poverty, the standard of living has been greatly improved while millions more enjoy bigger paycheques. Potentially sparking nationwide pro-democracy protests within China, at the potential expense of China’s currently stability, is a risky and foolish move by the Nobel Committee. Such a decision is not in the interests of pro-democracy activists within China.

The second reason why the Nobel Peace Prize will not impact pro-democracy movements within China is because such a movement lacks the necessary international support needed for success. Stability within China is just as important for China as it is globally. Many nations heavily rely on and benefit from China’s booming economy. With massive economic growth has come billions, if not trillions of dollars worth of economic benefits to nations around the world.

Whether it be an export market, cheap labour, a place for foreign investment or receiving Chinese foreign investment, there is money to be made. One only needs to look at Australia to see the benefits reaped from a strong economic relationship with China. Nations, thus, aren’t willing to risk losing this almost bottomless pit of money by commenting on China’s democratic progress, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize or by supporting a pro-democracy movement. Chinese nationalists strongly agree with the international stance.

Finally, there is a strong argument to be made that by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Lui the international community, in particular the West, is continuing its ideological war. China’s unwillingness to surrender and adopt greater democratic principles fundamentally disturbs the West. In the minds of some Westerners, even if China grows and develops to an advanced level, it still needs to surrender to the Western ideology..Anxiety within China also stems from the concern that foreign campaigns in support of Liu could prompt harsh backlash on citizens by the Chinese authorities. Although Liu’s sentence was considered unusually harsh, it is part of a pattern of stiffer punishments for dissidents in China over the past two years. Worsening treatment of Chinese citizens is something the international community would want to avoid. Nations have too much to lose, such as upsetting stability and their economy by campaigning for democracy in China.

To overcome China’s lack of westernisation, the West discredits China, as a method to force China into surrendering to greater Westernisation. The Nobel Peace Prize is not a lone voice in this attack on China, but is one of many voices supplemented by various international and internal non-governmental organisations and economic identities that harass China regarding their lack of democracy and poor human rights record.  But what these voices fail to keep in mind is that China, in a very short period of time, has achieved remarkable economic and political success, with Chinese people today enjoying greater freedoms, fatter pocketbooks, greater democratic involvement through local elections and more cultural success than they did a decade ago.

China has achieved this at a gradual pace that can be managed by the CCP and allows citizens to adapt, whilst not upsetting internal stability. In doing so China has adopted some Western principles, but still refuses to fully westernize. What China has achieved by following its current course, whilst largely ignoring what the West says, is a stable prosperous nation. Why should it change now?

It is easy for us to argue that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu will reignite the democratic movement within China. However, the Nobel Peace Prize only serves to anger the CCP, leading to greater censorship and potentially upsetting China’s current internal stability.

This statement is realistic rather than idealistic. Those who say otherwise are ignorant of the basic facts that internal stability is, on one hand, vital for China to continue its current success whilst also gradually introducing democratic principles, but is also vital for global stability and its economy. All Lui’s Nobel Peace Prize does is serve to undermine stability and hinder democratic progress within China.

China has changed a lot. For now it will continue to gradually bring about political changes that promote stability whilst quelling those who want otherwise. China doesn’t want, nor would anyone else, a radical revolution that overwhelms current stable democratic reform. When walking through China, one rarely meets a citizen who is against political reform, but many understand that China has its own individual conditions. It cannot be forced into a half hearted attempt at democracy.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize is a feeble gesture rather than something that will bring about greater democratic reform within China.


One thought on “The Nobel Peace Prize: A Spark to Fuel Democracy in China?

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