Few, if any, African states have congratulated Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 winner of the Nobel peace prize. Whatever their motives in not doing so, congratulations are not deserved, because Liu’s perspectives and goals are not compatible with the interests of most Chinese.
All one hears in the international media about Liu is that he is a heroic fighter for democracy.
In fact that is not the case. But, even if he were, his prescriptions for China would remain untenable.
First, the precondition for being awarded a Nobel peace prize should be that one is for peace. Liu is not.
He has vituperatively endorsed wars, including the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and, retrospectively, the Korean and Vietnam wars.
It is not surprising that the Nobel committee would overlook the fact that Liu has supported wars that the United Nations refused to authorise.
Committee members represent the principal parties in the Norwegian Parliament.
Leaving aside the question of why the world should credit a prize awarded by five white politicians of one nationality, it should be noted that their parties endorsed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for which Norway has provided troops.
Second, Liu stated in a 1988 interview with a Hong Kong magazine that China should undergo 300 years of colonialism to make it like Hong Kong. He reiterated this view in an interview with the same magazine in 2006.
Given the massive violations of human rights under colonialism, it doesn’t go down well in China or, one would assume, most ex-colonies.
Third, the Charter ’08 document that led to Liu’s arrest called for the privatisation of industry and land in China.
The Soviet Union’s privatisation led to the confiscation of the core of the economy by a handful of oligarchs.
And the partial privatisation of state assets in China, which mainly enriched officials, has caused most Chinese to indicate in surveys their opposition to the wholesale privatisation Liu proposes.
Fourth, Liu, who has long been financed by the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy, proposes an instant shift to electoral democracy as the solution to China’s problems.
That does not hold out promise for China at all.
Professor Randall Peerenboom of Columbia University’s Law School has shown that some non-democratic states (such as Singapore and some Arab states) are rated highly in terms of the rule of law, while electoral democracies (such as Guatemala, Kenya and Papua New Guinea) rate poorly.
States that have made the transition to electoral democracy at low levels of wealth (and China is still very much a developing country) have low levels of development and considerable instability.
Only a few small states, at the high-end of developing countries, have sustained electoral democracy. The exception is India, but in many economic and social aspects it compares unfavourably with China.
India also has a hugely problematic political system. Peerenboom has observed that “anyone who believes that most Chinese citizens are likely to see elections as the answer to their problems based on the experiences of Asian countries should think again.
Elections— hardly inspire confidence or match the inflated rhetoric about the ability of democracy to hold government officials accountable.”
Studies also show that only the “highest levels of democracy” improve human rights practices. In many cases the transition to electoral democracy in developing countries worsens rights.
If most Chinese knew what Liu stands for, they would reject him. In that respect the Chinese government not only unnecessarily imprisoned Liu but ineptly condemned the awarding of the peace prize solely on the fact that Liu is a convicted criminal.
It would have been simply far better to show the world what Liu stands for. Then most of it, like Africa’s states, would have no reason to congratulate him.
Barry Sautman is a political scientist and lawyer at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. Yan Hairong is an anthropologist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University