Why won’t China argue the case for locking up Liu Xiaobo?

Peter Foster – The Telegraph

Copyright The Telegraph
China is predictably angry about Liu Xiaobo, the author of the Charter 08 petition, winning the Nobel Peace Prize and, for the sake of balance, I’ve been asking myself if they might not have a point.
Depending on who is listening at the time, Beijing has deployed has two broad lines of attack against the award – one reasoned, the other crudely populist.
The populist line is (in every sense) simple. The award, as the Chinese-language Global Times said in an editorial today, is a reflection of the “extraordinary terror” that the broke, enfeebled West has in the face of a rising, mighty China.
It’s a petty snub from some washed up, ungrateful old former colonial bullies that want to do China down; countries that can’t stomach a powerful China even as it props up the world economy almost single-handed.
The reasoned argument, however, is the one advanced to me by a senior Chinese government official a few months ago and is worthy of more consideration.
Liu Xiaobo, the official said, is more dangerous to the fabric of the Chinese state than a murderer, a man hell bent on undoing all the good work of the last 30 years.
I paraphrase, but the argument runs thus: “Think of the madness of the Mao years, the cult of personality and the Cultural Revolution it inspired, the famines and the great castles in the air of the Great Leap Forward.
“Then look at China now. Look at the real glass and concrete turrets of Shenzhen and Shanghai, at the literacy rates, nutrition levels, vaccination coverage, the numbers of graduates…and you see a middle-income country whose development has taken place on a scale and at a speed unmatched in human history.
“Why can’t the West shut and admire this progress? Why can’t it understand that these great prizes have been won not through democracy (look at the sorry mess India is in), but through disciplined and cohesive one-party rule.
“Then pause for a second and consider what China has achieved in the last 30 years by way of social and economic progress and then double it – at this rate, somewhere around 2040 or 50 China will have a Singapore-style “democracy”, not Western for sure, but with freedoms commensurate with its history and stage of development.”
These arguments are on the face of it highly persuasive, not least to the Chinese people who, as is often said, have no appetite for chaos and a Czezh-style colour revolution in any case.
But they do beg a question. If they are so persuasive, why doesn’t the Party make them to the people?
Why not plaster them all over the newspapers, explain who Liu Xiaobo is (most Chinese don’t know because Liu has been expunged from the press) and then explain just why he’s been locked for 11 years for writing a petition?
Does the sentence handed down last Christmas really fit the crime of “inciting the subversion of state power”? Is locking up this angry old professor for 11 years the justifiable price that must be paid to keep the show on the road for everyone else?
I don’t know the answer to that. Just as I don’t know if history will relate that those who died at Tiananmen (to whom Liu dedicated his award) died in the name of perpetuating the power of a one-party state, or on the long road to a free China.
But either way, the Party doesn’t want to have the debate. That’s the reason it locked up Liu Xiaobo, to stifle the debate at birth.
Instead, it responds by censoring the media and filling it full of trite, nationalist garbage; cancelling meetings with Norwegian fisheries ministers; putting Liu’s wife under house arrest and generally shaking its fist in defiance at its major trading partners.
It is this brittleness, this startling paranoia, this terror (to use their word) that even incremental reform might bring the house down that should worry everyone in the West which needs a China with functioning legal, political and social institutions.
I fear this Nobel Prize will not advance that cause – at least not immediately – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t right, indeed essential, that Liu should have been honoured for taking a stand against a State that asserts its right to power, but dares not argue the case for doing so.
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