The most common criticism about the award of the Nobel Peace Prize is what kind of peace has the winner brought to the world. I would counter with the question: What do you mean by peace? To restrict the meaning of peace is to depreciate its value. The idea of peace should be broaden from mere no-war to improvement of human conditions and well-being.
To be worthy of its name, the Nobel Peace award should also emphasize inspiration other than achievement, to promote the future instead of just praising the past, and to elevate the invisible instead of spotlighting the well-known. That is why a wide range of winners have been selected around the world including controversial ones such as Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo (2010), US President Obama (2009), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007), and Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank (2006). You will notice that each award carries a special message that has deep meaning for the future well-being of the world.
The issues surrounding each Nobel Peace award must be controversial. Otherwise they are not worthy of the prize. The issue of human rights is perhaps the most controversial of all, because different countries and cultures see it in different lights. The one that is most offended, if at all, is the country where the winner comes from. To be precise, it is the government of the winner’s country that is offended, whereas many fellow citizens may feel proud about it. Should the Nobel Committee care about who’s being offended? They should not, because the offense helps reinforce the message they want to send.
In the ceremony for Liu’s award, it is a poignant scene to see the Committee Chairman put down the award in an empty chair. This creates a deep emotion and reminds people of the lack of human rights in China. Preventing a citizen from receiving the award is the wrong way for the Chinese government to show its anger. Why? The receiving of the price physically is not that important. The award has in fact been done for the whole world to see on TV. The world has also seen China’s lack of human rights in the empty chair.
The Chinese government should have expelled Liu and let him do whatever he wants in the country that wants to adopt him. In this way, the empty chair would not have occurred and the ceremony would have closed like any other. The Chinese government could still claim that there is no human rights violation in China, and voice its anger at other countries that try to “interfere in Chinese internal affairs”. Liu would cease to be an issue after a while, like many other Chinese activists, who have lived an exiled life overseas.
My point is that it is never wise to harbor a fortress mentality like the Chinese government does. Holding Liu and other famous activists in jail is not good policy. Expelling them is a better alternative. The former Soviet Union has done this before by expelling Solzhenitzyn and many others.
In addition, the Chinese government should seriously think about their human rights policy. Will relaxation throw the country into chaos as they fear? Probably not. Is the current tight control used as an excuse to preserve their power? They should have realized the great benefits in having granted their people business freedom that has propelled China to an economic powerhouse. In the near future, the Chinese people will want more, that is, more political freedom comparable to the economic freedom now existing. The activists like Liu Xiaobo and his associates are spearheading this movement of political reform. Someday, when more than one billion citizens catch on to this idea, how can the government stop them?