Catalyst for reform

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Catalyst for reform

The Norwegian Noble Committee’s decision to give jailed Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo the Noble Peace Prize represents an important event in the history of world politics and human rights. It’s the first time an inmate has received the award, highlighting how concerned the international community is about the human rights situation in a country with a booming economy and growing global status.

The award represents more than the recognition of one individual, as it could have much broader implications depending on how Chinese officials and the country’s people respond.

The Beijing government issued a statement through the country’s foreign ministry calling the decision to give the honor to a criminal who violated Chinese law “a disgrace to the Noble Peace Prize.” It railed against the United States, Germany, France and other Western countries that have urged China to free political dissidents for “meddling with domestic affairs.”

But a country of its status should know that human rights issues are not limited to the domestic realm. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948 asserts in the first paragraph that recognition of human dignity for all people is the foundation of justice and peace in the world. Articles 18 to 20 specifically uphold spiritual, public and political freedom.

Liu Xiaobo, a literature professor before he became an avid dissident, struggled for two decades to promote democracy, freedom of expression, human rights and an end to single-party rule through writings and other non-violent means. The Nobel Committee and the international community feel he deserves the prize for his pacifist approach to defending human rights. The Chinese government can’t be happy about this kind of attention. But world history shows that when a country’s economy surges and creates a burgeoning middle class, demand for greater freedom, a democratic government, political reform and human rights reform grow exponentially. Just look at South Korea.

Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov was banished to a remote rural area five years after he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. But he was reinstated in 1985 under Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika policy. It is the way of world history.

China is irrefutably one of the world’s most powerful nations, boasting an immense population of 1.3 billion. Whether it will join the global community from a human rights perspective is a key concern for the rest of the world. We hope the awarding of the Noble Peace Prize to Xiaobo will serve as a catalyst to push China in that direction.

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