Blog composed 11.13.10. 1
To set the record straight:
The New York Times, on November 11, runs an editorial by KISHORE MAHBUBANI on Liu Xiaobo that voices succinctly and cogently another opinion. This reaffirms (in my mind at least) the function of the NYT as platform for dissemination of information about topics relating to contemporary China, particularly where politics are concerned.
Not that I would concur entirely with this particular view either, and critics Mahbubani’s view are abundant.
Ed Friedman, in a post to a Chinese-culture related list-serve, makes the following observations:
This is an old and long-discredited tune. The song is not about Deng’s
achievements or Bush’s crimes. The lyrics are: China will naturally evolve
into a democracy. Therefore anyone who tries to promote democracy stirs up the authoritarians and thereby delays democracy. As a result, the true
friends of democracy tomorrow are the enemies of democracy today.
(By the way, it is a fact that many parents in spring 1989 tried to talk
their children into leaving Tiananmen, saying that it was best to wait for
the old guard to die off and a new generation to rise. The old guard has
died off. China is not becoming more open, however.)
In reality, no government ever evolved into a democracy. None. Ever.
Authoritarians do not voluntarily abandon the political stage. Power does
not give way without a struggle.
It is, however, interesting to find Mahbubani arguing as if democracy were
a universal human good. I cannot remember him ever before doing that. Is
this a change of heart or a rhetorical tactic?
Nonetheless, Mahbubani articulates the possibility that awarding the Nobel Prize to Liu is counterproductive in terms of advancing democracy in China. The reason, if not already obvious enough, is that governments (like the people that comprise them?) are less inclined to substantive change if not compelled by outside pressure. Again, it seems a comparison is in order: when has “international pressure” had any impact on particularly domestic politics in the United States?
Hopefully, but not likely, a final observation on the issue. This is not the first time the Nobel Prize would rankle presiding governments, or even just the Chinese government (Dalai Lama). Although it is perhaps noteworthy that in a case like Nelson Mandela (1993), would be jointly awarded with F. Willem de Klerk, making the award a recognition of some actual peace among conflicting forces rather than the potential for peace. In Liu’s case, it would be useful if his intercourse with the Chinese government could result in something other than imprisonment and silence.