An Absence Louder Than Words

China, we are often told, is America’s greatest rival, destined to overtake the U.S. as the world’s preeminent military and economic powerhouse, if it hasn’t already. But how to square this forecast of a glorious Chinese future with the pathetic reality on display this week – that of a rising superpower cowering before one man?

The man in question is of course Liu Xiaobo, the jailed dissident who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this week in absentia. A poet and literary critic, Liu is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for “subversion.” His crime? He is the co-author of “Charter 08,” an appeal for non-violent political and human-rights reform inside China.

It’s a testament to the inherent instability of China’s authoritarian system that it considers a 54-year old poet such a grave threat. In anticipation of Liu’s award this week, the Chinese government blocked news stations like BBC and CNN from broadcasting and shut down websites. Police stepped up repression against dissidents, tightening controls on protest. Special care was taken to isolate Liu’s relatives, who might have received the award on his behalf. His wife, Liu Xia, is reportedly being kept under house arrest. The result was that the Nobel Prize was not handed out for the first time in 74 years. An empty chair and a photograph of Liu were the lone signs of the honoree’s presence.

Yet the symbolism of Liu’s forced absence was powerful enough. For all of its much-hyped technological progress, modern China cannot abide a man who posts his opinions on the internet. Despite its massive military buildup, the country must marshal its forces to silence the supporters of a man who preaches non-violence. Even as it aspires to be a major player in international affairs, China treats a single prize as a mortal challenge to its global might. If this is a glimpse of the Chinese future, it is a revealing one.

It is rare that the Nobel Prize committee exhibits moral clarity. All too often it has bestowed the honor on either those who did not actually deserve it (Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore) or on those who made a mockery of its underlying principles (Yaser Arafat). In Liu Xiaobo, the committee has found a worthy recipient, a point creditably conceded by President Obama, who observed that Liu was “far more deserving of this award than I was.”

Locked in his prison cell, Liu Xiaobo did not get a chance to deliver his message about the internal weakness of China’s political system. But in their determination to keep him silent, Liu’s oppressors made the point for him. Until he can walk free, China’s self-assured claims to global leadership must be dismissed as mere posturing.

  • mikidiki

    It is not only the Chinese who are posturing .. every year a two-bit committee of non-discernible virtue allocates prizes for various attainments [or lack of them] to groups or individuals throughout the world. This year the empty chair is more of a symbol of Norwegian self satisfaction and smugness than of Chinese intransigence and tyranny. The Peace Prizes awarded to Al Gore, Obama, Arafat and their ilk have destroyed whatever claims to credence this overblown ceremony once, if ever, had. The prizes are Norway's equivalent of "Pop Idol" and as such are without substance and significance.

  • bill morgenstein

    Dictatorships do not change. They look to protect the few in their inner circle and the hell with the populace. As to the rest of the world you either kowtow to their unprincipled ways or you are a pariah in their eyes. Unfortunately America is on a collision course with China. When you are the most powerful country in the world both in pure power, message and economic force you can expect jealousies and conflict. Instead of an iron fist in a soft glove we are making the naive mistake of trying to be everyone's friend. We should stand up for our principles instead of bowing and yielding to our enemies and showing distain and neglect to our enemies. China and the other dicatatorship (too numerous to mention here) bring on the oppostie effect when they try to stifle their dissadents.

  • Fred Campbell

    Imagine yourself as one of the leaders of China. Remembering Tienanmen Square. Trying to walk the tightrope of commerce with the rest of the world while trying to isolate Chinese citizens from western ideas. Trying to use the internet as a productive tool while censoring political thought. Why, it is enough to make one paranoid!

    Let us hope that, as in the case of the USSR, Communism dies with a whimper instead of a bang.

    • Dan

      Yes for the "hope". I have wondered though: How much of what Chinese "leaders" do is influenced more by race and corresponding nationalism (the very name of the country is race/ethnically aligned) than by ideology? As in ethnocentrism as the primary motivation.

  • Bear from Russia

    Nobel Peace Prize: political tool

    • Mike in VA

      RT = Political tools.

      What a nauseating and fallacious defense of one of the most rights-repressive regimes on the planet. Quoting North Korea's running Commie dogs in ANSWER only makes it more ridiculous.

  • Steve Chavez

    "BRING OUR JOBS HOME!" To hell with China!

    • bill morgenstein

      This can easily be done by "Insourcing" which would be accomplised if we lowered the 35% Corporate tax rate which is the highest in the world.

      There are many foreign companies itching to set up offices and HQ's here . This would mean lot's of hiring and increased total business. They won't do that with the current tax structure.

      • Mike in VA

        It could and should be done by boycotting Chinese products. This is something every American can do on their own without any assistance from Washington.

    • Glenn

      Amen Brother.

  • badaboo

    What does the "empty chair " mean ? The same thing it meant since BEFORE ,Nixon opened the floodgates , and ALL U S Presidents that followed . This is not news , it's been like this since WW2 ended . I'm shocked …just shocked ! What is it you propose that we do ? That is now that they own our arses …..,and Big Buisiness makes foreign policy as far as China goes .

  • badaboo

    Bear from Russia you're right , but only HALF-RIGHT , for there have been many recipients that truly ameliorated the condition of mankind , and were quite deserving of it . However in this case , you are correct . This man is only one in millions , and this is what China does .

    • USMCSniiper

      So on this notable occasion, the White House released a statement from President Obama on the awarding of the prize to Liu in absentia. And this is how Obama’s statement began:

      Obama comments on Lui's Nobel Prize: "One year ago, I was humbled to receive the Nobel Peace Prize — an award that speaks to our highest aspirations, and that has been claimed by giants of history and courageous advocates who have sacrificed for freedom and justice."

      Critics have often said of Obama that “it’s all about him,” that he has a tendency to reference himself no matter what subject he is discussing. He couldn't have done any more to prove them right! Most people also consider Obama'sundeserved Nobel Prize a unfunny joke on America.

  • badaboo

    Since Obama didn't ask for the prize , and had absolutely nothing to do with the nomination or choice , don't you think it a bit of repetitious rhetoric , to even mention him on this topic ? ODS , you got it man , and you got it bad …Obama Derangement Syndrome . Believe it or not , there's nothing more that he or ANYONE else could have said or done differently regarding this circumstance , but you'lll take your shot anyway . Man how childish you are for a grown man ! [ and quite abit of other likeminded people ] . Give it a break man you sound like a jerk .
    Wanna lift your leg on someone ? Then do it to the Nobel Prize Committtee or the Chinese.

    • Boogies Daddy

      The President of the United States' comments on the event are as worthy of inclusion as yours.

  • badaboo

    Gee …you can think !!! Now go and ask Mr.Sniper why he brought him up to begin with .
    And then ask Mr.USMCSniper WHY he jost posted PART of the statement by Obama [just the part he liked -to use in an attack ] and left out that Obama said Lui was more deserving of that prize than he , and that he should have been allowed to attend with his wife , AND that he should not be in prisoned by China .

    Maybe USMCsniper is counting on imbeciles too lazy to google the whole statement , huh boogies daddy ?