China's relentless criticism of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to imprisoned Chinese dissident writer, Liu Xiaobo, showed signs of backfiring on Thursday, as criticism of Beijing rose, a day ahead of the award ceremony. Beijing's high pressure tactics and campaign of vilification have ensured a wave of publicity for Liu, a bookish 54 year old democracy activist, who was formerly all but unknown, even inside China. Its' attempts to sabotage Friday's award ceremony in Oslo have sparked a backlash, with the governments of Serbia and the Philippines both receiving brickbats for caving in to China's demands to boycott the event.
China and 18 other nations, mostly close allies and fellow authoritarian states, have declined to attend, according to the Nobel Committee, although there were reports that Colombia had reversed it's decision and decided to attend. Rights group, Amnesty International said members of Norway's Chinese community were being pressured by Chinese diplomats to attend anti Nobel protests planned for Friday, and had been threatened with retaliation if they failed to appear. In China, Liu's wife, Liu Xia, and dozens of friends, colleagues and sympathizers in the country's embattled dissident community remained under house arrest or tight surveillance to prevent them from attending the ceremony.
Liu, arrested in December, 2008 after co-authoring a bold call for sweeping political reform, is serving an 11 year sentence for subversion; his fourth stretch of incarceration since 1989. Such tactics have taken a toll on China's efforts to win foreign friends by projecting a more mild image of the country through foreign aid, investment, media and educational exchanges. Li Heping, a civil rights lawyer, said the government's harsh reaction to the prize was an eye opener for the West, bringing into clear focus differences with China over values.
"In the past, the West didn't have a consensus on China. But this affair, this Nobel prize, has created one because it is linked with the West's core values," said Li, who was disbarred after pursuing human rights cases. Prominent rights groups, including Amnesty International, repeated their calls for Liu's release, saying China's actions violated both domestic laws and Beijing's international commitments. "The Chinese government should be celebrating this global recognition of a Chinese writer and activist," Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General, said in a statement. "Instead, the government's very public tantrum has generated even more critical attention inside and outside China and, ironically, emphasized the significance of Liu Xiaobo's message of respect for human rights."
In Washington, State Department spokesperson, P.J. Crowley reaffirmed US support for the award but said it wasn't intervening with other countries to resist Chinese pressure for a boycott. "We think there absolutely should be a ceremony. We think there absolutely should be recognition. We think that Mr. Liu and his wife should be there to be able to receive the award," Crowley said at a Wednesday briefing.
Liu's case has bedeviled relations with Washington for years, as underscored by a leaked US embassy cable that describes an angry protest by a Chinese diplomat over a letter from the US ambassador raising concerns over the detention of Liu and other dissidents.
The cable, released on Wednesday by WikiLeaks, was dated a year ago. In the cable, General Ding Xiaowen, is quoted as accusing the US of insulting China's judicial sovereignty and interfering in its internal affairs; accusations amplified in recent weeks through statements by Chinese officials and articles in the state media.
Despite the criticism, China shows no sign of moderating its tone, with the official Xinhua News Agency and the Global Times newspaper unleashing fresh attacks on the Nobel Committee. "By enshrining a convict, the Committee pulled the old trick of trying to impose western values and political systems, on the rest of the world," Xinhua said in a commentary late on Wednesday. "What is happening now is illustrative of the strategic intention of the West to disturb the large environment for China's development," echoed the Global Times, published by the Communist Party mouthpiece, People's Daily. China also hopes to counter the Nobel with its own accolade, the hastily announced 'Confucius Peace Prize', which is to be awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President, Lien Chan in Beijing on Thursday.