Paul Lau (Hong Kong, AC 10-12)
Many have hailed the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award Liu Xiaobo of China the Nobel Peace prize for 2010 as a massive step for democracy in China. A brave and daring move that should be recognized and treasured above anything else. Others interpret the move as a further evidence of Western liberal democracies meddling in ‘internal’ affairs. Some have gone as far as to call it modern colonialism and a blatant attempt at enforcing wester ideals on China. Not only do these statements dwell upon insignificant details, they simply couldn’t be further from the truth.
Certainly the award was an important milestone, but it was far from a solitary act that was alone in standing up to government tanks. In fact, the need for greater political freedom and democracy in China has been a call echoed from the ordinary civilians right through to the top brass of the political machine.
A recent New York Times ‘news analysis’ called the prize a sharp rejoinder to the philosophy that “freedom of speech, multiparty elections and constitutional rights — what some human rights advocates call universal values — are indigenous to the West, and that is where they should stay.” Ironically, that was the very opposite to the philosophy put forward by Premier Wen Jiabao who said, while in Shenzhen in southern China, “along with economic reform, we must keep doing political reform”. The position that political reform had to go along with economic reforms was one Wen had talked about as early as 2008 in interviews with foreign media.
Admittedly, this view, along with Wen’s statement in a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria that “I believe freedom of speech is indispensable, for any country. Freedom of speech has been incorporated into the Chinese constitution” was ‘harmonized’, the China’s euphemism for censorship. But before foreigners pour scorn onto this act, think back just 10 years. Not only would such a statement almost certainly have been
censoredharmonized, it would almost certainly not have been made in the first place, and certainly not by such a high-ranking official as the premier. That Wen Jiabao went as far as to make the call for more political freedom in a speech to the UN General Assembly on September 23 this month goes to show just how seriously the issue is being taken.