Nineteen countries boycotted the recent Oslo ceremony conferring the Nobel Peace Prize on jailed Chinese human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo.
After all countries with a diplomatic presence in Norway received formal invitations to pariticipate, China, Kazahkstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afganistan, Venezuela, the Philipines, Egypt, Sudan, Cuba, Morocco, Ukraine and Russia decided not attend. (Although Serbia initially declined the invitation, it decided to attend after its government leader Mirko Cvetokovic met with European Union officials.)
There’s no doubt a country’s presence or absence was carefully and deliberately decided by taking under consideration publically avowed human rights principles on the one hand and Peking’s possible reaction on the other. There’s also no doubt that the absentees’ individual decisions were based on various motivations: some countries simply agree with the persecution of prisoners of conscience (for example Iran, Cuba, Russia); some fear the negative impact on relations with China (possibly Iraq, Afganistan, the Philipines); probably most of them fear losing the massive and “if-you-play-your-cards-right’ lucrative Chinese market for their exports.
It’s obvious that Beijing created a problem for itself with Liu Xiaobo by sending a man to prison for 11 years for peacefully advocating for democracy. Over the last decade, international tolerance for Chinese authoritarian instincts have been gravely misplaced. We have become desentisized by the relentlessness of everyday authoritarianism. Memories of Tianamen Square have faded and the era of a Chinese economic boom has become a fatal attraction for practically all worldwide. Many other Chinese have been incarcerated without notice, while the free world pants like an infatuated puppy to curry favour with China or then asks meekly for Beijing to please do better.
In reference to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony China took a bare-knuckle stance and went on the offensive: “…to those at the Nobel committee, they are orchestrating an anti-Chinese farce by themselves. We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path”, stated a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson. In fact Peking has often indicated that it’s the country’s social cohesion and stability that need state protection, not human rights and democracy.
Will Liu Xiaobo and his personal mission pass into a distant memory as the world gets back into business? Will an appreciable economic benefit accrue for the nations that offered their grovelling deference to China? Will China extract a diplomatic or economic price from those nations that were present at the Peace Prize ceremony? A suitable parallel has been studied. In fact German researchers have actually shown that nations that choose to receive the Dalai Lama suffer economically in trade with China. Similarly it would be highly likely that some of the countries that chose to align with China and boycott the ceremony will receive investment or trade bonuses in the near future.
The most important question – will Liu Xiaobo and his goal pass into obscurity? Peking itself will ensure that the Nobel Laureate will maintain some attention in the world press, in spite of his removal from the public. China, by ridiculing the Nobel awards committee, by harassing and arresting dissidents before tha Oslo ceremony, by putting Liu’s wife under house arrest, by browbeating other countries into not attending is doing a superb job in keeping the world focussed on human rights violations in China. No, Liu Xiaobo’s efforts and fate will be remembered.
Play it safe and boycott