The following piece clarifies quite accurately why a certain degree of scepticism -to say the least- towards the nomination of Liu Xiaobao for the Nobel Peace Prize is quite in order.
Two Hong Kong social scientists, Barry Sautman (sobarry@ust.hk) and Yan Hairong, have analyzed this theme “USA vs. China & a Peace Prize” in “The Ignoble Hero: Liu Xiaobo and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize”. The issue merits attention since it highlights peace theory and practice.

Of course they have been suspected of toeing the Beijing line. But theirs, like this author’s, is very different: “the Chinese government should not have imprisoned Liu, but he does not deserve to be a Nobel laureate”.  

Nobody should be arrested for opinions only.

Charter 08 is a catalogue of Western state theory, with division of powers, independent legislature and judiciary, democracy and human rights like the freedoms of association, assembly and expression, adding federalism, environment and social security – and free markets and private property.  Right wing social democracy.  There is a Chinese point, also very good: abolition of the hukou registration system, also found in Japan (koseki), Vietnam and North, but not South, Korea.  But no analysis of peace or interstate relations in general.

Of course a prize can be given for a path-breaking movie, speech or charter that opens roads to peace, if not yet in fact, at least in theory (if neither one, nor the other, then the decision is seriously flawed).  But the prize was not given to the Charter group, but to one person, Liu.  And that makes it mandatory to know what he stands for.

When asked in 1988, 33 years old, under what conditions China could achieve real historical change he famously replied “Three hundred years of colonization.  It took one hundred years for Hong Kong”.  He confirmed this in 2006 (then beyond 50). “To choose Westernization is to choose to be human”.

These are views that could be compared to some American after the War of Independence arguing the return of London rule, or some Norwegian after the Second world arguing the return of Nazi occupation with Quisling.  Such people no doubt existed, but may have preferred to keep silent, not sure that they would be protected by freedom of expression.  However, that is not the point, but that the Norwegian parliament’s peace prize committee knew this (given the research), awarded him the prize and thereby endorsed the view on colonialism.

Liu also has very strong views against Chinese culture as “wimpy, spineless and fucked-up”, a “hodge-podge which is neither fish nor fowl”.  Of course freedom of expression implies the freedom to critique your own culture, including confucianism, like Liu does.  However, that is not the point but that the Norwegian parliament’s committee knew this, and implicitly endorsed the view by awarding him the prize.  Understanding among nations?

Liu is enthusiastic about US warfare, “the Korean war, the confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, and the Vietnam war”.  And “the war against Saddam Hussein is just!  The decision by President Bush is right!”  He blames Palestinians in the Israel/Palestine conflict as “provocateurs”.  Such views are often found in the West, like at the top of the Norwegian Labor Party, now waging war in Afghanistan, and Liu should enjoy the same freedom.  However, that is not the point, but that the Norwegian parliament’s committee knew this, and implicitly endorsed the view by awarding him the prize.

In no way does this meet Nobel’s criteria as pointed out by Fredrik Heffermehl, The Nobel Peace Prize.  What Nobel Really Wanted (Praeger, 2010; also in Chinese and Russian.

But the decision is also seriously flawed, logically, empirically and theoretically.  There should be a substantial correlation between civil and political rights -CPR- and peace.  Inside a country they may be each other’s cause and effect, but “peace” to most people is between countries and, CPR (a.k.a Civil Procedure Rules) are domestic.  If the “right to life” was extended across borders we would ban war and ban exploitation, with millions dying from direct and structural violence; alas they do not.  As a result we find countries high on CPR also very high on belligerence (the number of wars engaged in over number of years of existence), with USA, Israel and UK on top.

And where is the theory?  What we see today is that countries high on CPR seem to think that entitles them to warfare, e.g., to impose human rights.  But like democracy, human rights have to emerge from the inside and cannot be imposed by breaking them.  If democracy means free and fair multi-party national elections then China does not have that and those three do, and yet they very often go to war.  If we add to that ritualistic definition “transparency and dialogue” then WikiLeaks has shown the lack thereof.  It looks more like democracy is a license to kill, and not an obligation to be transparent across borders and use dialogue for solutions.

But would not CPR and democracy create peace in China?

Sautman and Yan show that this is not necessarily the case around the world.  CPR may be accompanied by neglect of economic and social rights. Both USA and China need both and should cooperate on both, not using deficits as political weapons, also helped by a US client country (such as Norway).  And that country should have given the right to award the Nobel Peace Prize to others when entering an alliance, NATO-1949, with one of them.


Born in 1930 in Oslo Norway,   Prof. Johan Galtung holds a PhD in mathematics from 1956 and a PhD in sociology from 1957. He is widely known as the pioneering founder of the academic discipline of peace studies. He has served as a professor for peace studies and peace research at the universities of Olso, Berlin, Cairo, Belgrad, Paris and Hawaii, just to name a few, and has mediated in about 50 conflicts between states and nations since 1957. Prof. Johan Galtung is acting rector of the TRANSCEND PEACE  UNIVERSITY: An All Online educational facility for academic Peace Studies.

Johan Galtung

Professor Johan Galtung is the founder and director of TRANSCEND-International. A non-profit network for Mediation and Conflict Resolution by non violent means. The network was founded in 1993. He has mediated in about 50 conflicts between and within states in conflict for over 50 years. Transcend connects over 400 experts in peace and reconciliation work. He currently teaches at the World Peace Academy at the University of Basel. http://www.transcend.org/