China's shame

Thursday, December 9, 2010; 9:24 PM

THE AWARD of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in Oslo on Friday will underline the absence of human rights in China, something most of the world is well aware of. What may actually shock international opinion is Beijing's grotesque campaign against the prize. Not since Nazi Germany has a regime reacted in quite such a belligerent way.

An empty chair will represent the incarcerated Mr. Liu at Friday's ceremony because China has placed his wife under house arrest and banned his brothers, as well as many other artists and intellectuals, from leaving the country. Only once before has the peace prize been awarded without anyone to receive it - in 1936, when Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from attending. Beijing has resorted to crude name-calling, referring to the Nobel judges as "clowns." In a particularly ludicrous stunt, it hastily orchestrated the award on Thursday of a "Confucius" peace prize to a former Taiwanese vice president who said he knew nothing about it.

More sobering are China's domestic crackdown, including the detention of numerous dissidents, and its bullying campaign to discourage other governments from sending representatives to Friday's event. Of 65 invited, at least 18 nations appear to have succumbed - placing themselves with Beijing in an axis of shame that contrasts dramatically with the list of those attending.

Most of the boycotters are predictable: autocratic regimes such as Russia, Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Egypt and Venezuela that handle their dissidents much as China handles its own. Others, such as Pakistan and Iraq, depend on Chinese investment or military aid. The few democracies in the mix - such as Serbia - have been widely denounced by their peers and will have plenty of explaining to do when they next seek favorable consideration from the European Union or the U.S. Congress. So will the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, who by failing to attend has lost all credibility on the subject of her portfolio.

The list of those attending only makes those nations - and China itself - look worse. It includes India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, South Korea and all 27 members of the E.U. as well as the United States. Colombia, which at first said it would not attend, reversed itself Thursday. If Beijing wished to test its diplomatic strength, it has suffered a humiliating defeat.

It's worth remembering whom this is about. Mr. Liu is a 54-year-old academic who co-authored a manifesto, Charter 08, which calls for China to accept basic human rights such as free speech and peaceful democratic reforms. For his relentlessly nonviolent advocacy, he has spent the past two years in prison and is sentenced to another 10. Of course it is embarrassing to Beijing that such a political prisoner would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, as it should be. But the campaign against the award is more than embarrassing. It is a sign to the world of the regime's dangerous hubris.

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