The imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In bestowing the honor on a prominent dissident, the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo has issued an explicit challenge, calling on China to respect political rights as it rises toward economic great-power status.
Liu Xiaobo was considered the frontrunner for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, despite warnings from the government of China that the action would lead to diplomatic strains with Norway. Noting that Liu is in prison for disseminating Charter 08, which called for greater freedom of assembly, expression and religion, the Nobel Committee said there is a "close connection between human rights and peace."
"Such rights are the pre-requisite for the fraternity between nations of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will," noted Committee chairman Torbjørn Jaglund, as he was announcing this year's selection.
Liu is a Beijing writer and former literature professor. His sentencing last December to an 11-year term for "inciting the subversion of state power" has drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups, Western governments and writers around the world.
Taking questions immediately after the announcement, Jaglund made it clear that this year's Nobel Peace award aims to confront China's suppression of dissent, just as earlier Nobels have carried an explicitly political message.
"China has become a very big power in economic terms as well as political terms. And it is normal that big powers should be under criticism," Jaglund said. "After the Second World War, the United States was the biggest power in the world, and we constantly debated what kind of United States we wanted, and many [people] criticized them all the time, which was an advantage for the United States. And when China is rising, and becoming a big power, we should have the right to criticize and ask what kind of China we want to have."
Jaglund said that the committee had been unable to reach Liu or his wife, but that it had been in contact with the government of China. Liu will be invited to Oslo to receive his award in December, but there is no indication that authorities in his home country will allow him to travel.