Today, jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is really an incredible statement by the Nobel Committee and a great push for democracy and human rights in China. Liu Xiaobo is one of China's most prominent democracy and rights advocates, currently serving an 11-year prison term for calling for democracy, rights and a multi-party system in Charter 08. Charter 08 was initially signed by a small group of intellectuals and dissidents, though quickly signed by more than 2,000 citizens shortly after publication. It was intended to be a road map for how political change could safely occur in China.
Liu also stands out because of his strong support for Tibet and the Tibetan Government in Exile's position of autonomy. In 2000, he authored an essay titled "The Right of Self-government," which supported the Dalai Lama's push for Tibetan autonomy (Chinese version, English translation). Obviously this did not win him many friends in the Chinese government. Liu has also put forward a specific plan for improving the situation in Tibet, authored with Wang Lixiong, "Twelve Suggestions on Dealing with the Tibetan Situation." It was written just after the start of the March 2008 national uprising in Tibet, at a time when tensions were high and a massive crackdown against Tibetans was beginning. The article included in the suggestions:
1. At present the one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation. This is extremely detrimental to the long-term goal of safeguarding national unity. We call for such propaganda to be stopped.
2. We support the Dalai Lama's appeal for peace and hope that the ethnic conflict can be dealt with according to the principles of goodwill, peace and nonviolence. We condemn any violent act against innocent people, strongly urge the Chinese government to stop the violent suppression, and appeal to the Tibetan people likewise not to engage in violent activities...
9. We appeal to the Chinese people and overseas Chinese to be calm and tolerant, and to reflect deeply on what is happening. Adopting a posture of aggressive nationalism will only invite antipathy from the international community and harm China's international image.
10. The disturbances in Tibet in the 1980s were limited to Lhasa, whereas this time they have spread to many Tibetan areas. This deterioration indicates that there are serious mistakes in the work that has been done with regard to Tibet. The relevant government departments must conscientiously reflect upon this matter, examine their failures, and fundamentally change the failed nationality policies.
11. In order to prevent similar incidents from happening in future, the government must abide by the freedom of religious belief and the freedom of speech explicitly enshrined in the Chinese Constitution, thereby allowing the Tibetan people fully to express their grievances and hopes, and permitting citizens of all nationalities freely to criticize and make suggestions regarding the government's nationality policies.
Liu has even been a strong supporter of and advocate for Woeser, Tibet's most famous poet and political dissident. This essay (Chinese version, English translation) defends one of her banned books and includes strong calls for freedom of thought and religion in China and Tibet. Again, these are not actions that made Liu popular with the Chinese government.
As much as today's award is a great step in the cause of democracy and human rights in China, it has not yet changed the Chinese government. This is being reported on Twitter:
"Wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo says police forcing her to leave Beijing: 'They want to distance me from the media.'"
Nobel Peace Prize winner the Dalai Lama has already put out a statement in praise of Liu Xiaobo's Nobel win. I would hope that President Barack Obama, himself a Nobel Peace prize winner, issues a strong statement in support of Liu Xiaobo, including a call for his release from prison.
Today is a great day in the cause of freedom and human rights. People often ask me whether or not freedom can ever come for Tibetans. I've always believed that for change to occur in Tibet, there must be change in China first. Liu Xiaobo is one of the leading advocates for democracy in China whose work makes the very possibility of a resolution to the Tibet question a likelihood. It is dissidents like Liu, Wang Lixiong, Hu Jia and blogger Han Han who are going to bring meaningful political change in China, a likely precondition to freedom in Tibet. I can't think of anyone more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Liu Xiaobo, a truly courageous man of principle whose belief in democracy and freedom has the power to shake one of the largest countries in the world to its core.
President Barack Obama has issued a statement calling on the Chinese government to release Liu Xiaobo. Here is the President's statement in full:
I welcome the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Liu Xiaobo. Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I. That list now includes Mr. Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs. By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
As I said last year in Oslo, even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal to all human beings. Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected. We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible. [Emphasis added]
This is a great statement from President Obama, both in its humility and in the President's use of his platform to call for Liu's release. Thank you, Mr. President.