Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Asia silent on Nobel winner

Much of Asia Silent on Nobel Peace Prize Winner

AOL News

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Oct. 13) --
In the wake of Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize win, congratulations -- and some criticisms -- have poured in from governments the world over. But in Asia, the silence has been deafening.

With the exception of Taiwan, and a low-key statement from Japan, Asian governments have kept quiet on the Nobel controversy -- neither supporting Liu nor taking the side of Beijing, which has furiously denounced the Nobel committee for the "blasphemy" of honoring a "convicted criminal."

The muted response reflects China's growing regional influence, Asia's authoritarian tendencies and a lack of regional leadership on human rights, says one activist.

"In general, developing countries, and especially Asian developing countries, try to stay on good terms with China," said Wang Songlian, research coordinator for China Human Rights Defenders, in a phone interview. "Asia continues to lag behind in promoting human rights, even though it has made great strides in economic development."

Liu is serving an 11-year jail sentence for "inciting subversion," a charge based on his peaceful calls for political reform in China, specifically through the Charter 08 manifesto he co-authored.

Wang said human rights activists "weren't expecting so much from Asian countries" in response to Liu's prize, because many of those countries, such as Vietnam and Burma, are also authoritarian, while others are "emerging from those tendencies."

But she singled out India as a democratic regional power that could do more but so far hasn't. "India is the only country big enough to counter this [China's] influence," said Wang. "But we're not seeing India providing leadership in this area. It's a bit disappointing that it's not saying anything."

Taiwan's government called for Liu's immediate release and for political reform in China, albeit after a day's delay that earned it criticism from the opposition. Despite warming ties with China, Taiwan prides itself on having shed an authoritarian past and changing into a vibrant, raucous democracy.

Japan's foreign minister made a bland statement saying that "fundamental human rights and freedom are important in any country."

An Indian official told The Times of India that "the decolonized world has learnt not to interfere in the internal affairs of each other," by way of explaining New Delhi's silence. The Times noted that the last time India congratulated an Asian democracy activist for winning the Peace Prize -- Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991 -- it lost out on "lucrative oil, gas and other business contracts."

Elsewhere, reaction to Liu's prize was a litmus test of a country's relations with China and support for human rights. Unconditional calls for Liu's release came from the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand (belatedly) and the European Parliament.

On the other side, condemnation of Liu's honor came from Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuban state-controlled media, which accused Liu of being a U.S. stooge. "The curriculum vitae of Liu Xiaobo is, as a matter of fact, not the least bit different from the type of 'dissident' the United States has for decades employed," wrote M.H. Lagarde on cubadebate.

Brazil, Russia and South Africa are among those countries that said little or nothing. The ruling African National Congress in the latter country came in for scathing criticism from one columnist, who noted the ANC's ties with past Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela.

"So where we should be identifying with Liu in his long-standing fight for freedom for his fellow oppressed Chinese, you won't be hearing a congratulations from the ANC anytime soon," wrote Verashni Pillay in South Africa's Mail & Guardian. "Our freedom has been won and we'll be damned if we'll let someone else's fight interfere with our lucrative relationship with their oppressors."

The rest of Africa was mostly mum too ("The continent's new dependence on good relations with China has not gone unnoted," wrote one commentator), as was much of Latin America.

Latin America has made great strides in "transitions to democracy, and truth and reconciliation commissions dealing internally with countries' pasts," said China Human Rights Defenders' Wang. "But internationally, it hasn't stood up for human rights very constructively, either."

The European Commission, made up of appointed civil servants rather than elected officials, issued only a tepid statement that stopped short of calling for Liu's release.

And the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was also vague, saying in a statement only that the award was "a recognition of the growing international consensus for improving human rights practices and culture around the world," while going on to praise China for its economic progress.

Article 35 of China's own Constitution and Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights list freedom of speech as a basic right of all citizens and peoples.

See Russia Today video on Liu and this year's Nobel Prize:

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