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Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize: Big Issue or Small?

The award of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Peace to Chinese dissident and pro-democracy activist, Liu Xiaobo has created a new debate for the international community. Is this a “big issue” or a “small issue” as the Chinese authorities like to define actions that impact them, or their actions that impact others. China, as they say, is always right and the only reasonable way to deal with China is in their own way. There is no other option.

Liu Xiaobo was a dogged crusader for a clean government, transparency, and democracy. His charter-08, published in 2008 as the name suggests, gave an outline for a democratic political system. There were many other signatories to his document including retired party elders. He was sentenced to eleven years in jail and declared an enemy of the state. This was not surprising since even a person posting an internet joke can be jailed for a year if the joke is perceived by the authorities as politically incorrect.

This is, however, an internal issue of China though in the increasingly globalized world a state’s legalized abuse of human rights are despised. But the Chinese authorities claim such activities by Chinese citizens threaten the state and the stability of the country. While this may be true, the other argument is what really do the people of China want? The Communist Party of China and the state are not willing to allow their people to cast their vote on this question.

“Human Rights” is a double edged weapon. Karl Marx wanted the workers of the world to break their chains. Unfortunately, after they broke the oppressive and exploitative chains of the archaic capitalism, they were shackled by very same system they fought to create to free their souls. Unfortunately, human rights have been used by the USA and the west to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and sabotage even countries which are as democratic as the west.

India has maintained a considered position on human rights, not taking sides, and opposing the use of this instrument to destabilize a nation state. As the world comes closer and political realities are in a fast changing mode, India  may have to review its position not totally, but on issues dependent on universal human rights.

The Indian government kept away directly from the Liu Xiaobo incident. It was a political decision and that is what matters to China. If the Indian people differ in their private views it does not matter to Beijing. It is the international votes that count. So far, so good.

Now the critical question is whether the Indian Embassy in Beijing that is, the Ambassador, will attend the ceremony of the Nobel Committee to award the prize to Liu Xiaobo. China has ensured that neither Liu’s wife or any of their relatives are able to leave China to receive their prize on Liu’s behalf. It is a practice of the committee, which is independent of the Swedish government, to present the award at least to a relative of the awardee if he or she cannot attend the ceremony. Even in the cold war era, the Soviet Union allowed Shakharov’s wife to travel to Stockholm to receive the peace prize on his behalf. There are other cases, too.

The award ceremony was scheduled for November 15. It was extended by three days after China started pressuring countries with consequences if they attended the ceremony. If the Nobel Committee does not give the award, it will be for the first time since 1936 when Nazi Germany prevented pacifist journalist Carl Von Ossietzky or a representative of his from leaving the country for accepting the peace award.

Six countries have notified the Nobel Committee that they will not attend the award ceremony – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco and Iraq. This list is going to increase. According to Nobel Committee Secretary Geir Lundestad, 36 ambassadors had agreed to attend the ceremony, and 16 had referred to their governments for a decision.

Pumped by its economic and military power and global influence, China has held out a threat and challenge to those countries who attend the award ceremony with “consequences”. China has lately used this technique on issues like the Dalai Lama and the Uighur nationalist leader Ms. Rebiya Kadeer. It has succeeded in many instances including bringing French President Nicolas Sarkozy to heels.

The Nobel Peace Prize award to Liu Xiaobo is being seen by Beijing as a test of their global pre-eminence. If China wins, the victory will be reflected in some way or the other by its hard lines especially in its neighbourhood including India. New Delhi will come under immense pressure on the activities of the Dalai Lama and India’s Dalai Lama/Tibet policy.

China has made the Liu Xiaobo award attendance bigger than a “big issue”. The meaning should not be lost on anybody.

India will have to decide whether to attend the Liu award ceremony or not. To come to a decision, New Delhi will have to consider what is a “big issue” and what is a “small issue” in India-China relations. And, is India’s sovereignty issue is a “small issue” compared to a Chinese dissident’s question is a “big issue” in this bilateral relationship?

China has trampled explicitly on India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity recently where the Kashmir issue is concerned. According to the instruments accession brokered by the British in the partition of India, the entire of Kashmir came to India as per Maharaja Hari Singh’s decision. India took the case to the United Nations after the Pakistani Laskers illegally occupied parts of Kashmir. The Indian aim was for the UN to persuade Pakistan to withdraw peacefully. Pakistan never acted on the UN conditions for a plebiscite. Legally India has sovereign rights over the entire Kashmir.

China’s latest policy is to make the Indian ruled Kashmir as a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, and Pakistan occupied Kashmir as a sovereign territory of Pakistan. It signaled their policy by issuing stapled visas to Indians from Kashmir and went to the extent of provoking India by deciding to issue stapled visa to the Indian Army GOC in Kashmir Lt. Gen. Jasswal, for an official tour to China. India called off the visit and suspended military exchanges.Chinese officials and their official media describe such issues including their criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh as “small issues” not to be bothered about, and advocates co-operation in trade and international issues and to counter the west.

If India absents from attending the Liu Xiaobo Nobel Award ceremony, whether it is held or not, it would determine for the Chinese where India stands in their perception. In spite of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s forthcoming visit to India in December, when he has added Pakistan on his itinerary, South Block has to make a determination whether it wants to live up to its status and secure its sovereignty against Chinese forays.

This is a huge Chinese strategic game to counter India. Despite India’s open demonstrations that it is not in any alliance to counter China, which some sections in China’s centre tends to believe, the anti-India hard liners, who form the vast majority are using this excuse to sabotage India. They want India to remain cocooned in South Asia and not spread to South East Asia and the Far East which China considers its domain.

Given the foregoing, India will have to decide whether to bow to China’s demands on the Liu Xiaobo’s award, which will determine what India sees as a “small issue” or a “big issue” in relations with China. If India withdraws from the Nobel Peace prize ceremony on China’s demand, it would have conceded that this is a “big issue”. Consequently, China disregarding India’s sovereignty will be considered a “small issue”. Asia and the world is watching. This will define India’s position in Asia and the world.

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New

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