Today saw the Nobel Prize committee announce that Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has been awarded this year's peace prize. According to the Guardian Newspaper's website, the awarding body praised Liu for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Currently, the campaigner is serving an 11 year term in a Chinese prison for his role in the authorship of Charter 08, the controversial call for increased democracy in the People's Republic. As the Guardian suggests, it is unlikely that Liu even knows that he has been awarded such a prestigious honour- visitors to his cell are restricted in what they can discuss, though the information may will filter through in due course.
China had previously warned the Nobel committee not to follow up on expectation that Liu would receive this year's peace prize, arguing that his example did not accord with the aims of the award. As analysts are predicting, Beijing's reaction to its 'advice' being ignored will be one of anger. The Chinese government has long been sensitive to other nations interfering with its political affairs, one of the main factors that makes foreign involvement in the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland so delicate. Despite the fact that the Nobel body is independent, China is bound to construe the commendation of a pro-reform activist as an attempt by the international community to undermine the position of the Chinese Communist Party and the structure of Chinese domestic politics.
Not surprisingly, as the Guardian also reported, BBC and CNN transmission was temporarily interrupted in the PRC when the announcement of the peace prize winner was made. The reason is obvious- Beijing does not want to lend further credibility to the principles of Charter 08 at the risk of a real surge in support for political reform amongst China's citizenry. The nature of the internet generation means that netizens have already been talking about the implications and validity of the decision (the website ChinaGeeks has published an interesting selection of comments made about the story on Twitter). Even with Beijing's moves to suppress the story, there will be an inevitable and perhaps significant effect on the internal campaign for human rights.
On an international level, Liu's award will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the world's diplomats. China and its economic partners have too much a stake to allow for a major rift in their relations. However, this will not stop it being a point of tension in bilateral discussions, and China has already signalled to Norway that all may not be well with Sino-Norwegian relations. As the China Bystander commented, Beijing seems unable to appreciate the independence of those who choose Nobel prize recipients. Rather, the condemnation of the Norwegian government “will just reinforce the notion that the state, government and civil society in China are indistinguishable, whereas that they are not is the basis of universal human rights.” This seems an appropriate reflection on which to end.