Seven years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, China’s most famous political prisoner has died, locked away under the heavily guarded watch of the Chinese state. The New York Times:
Liu Xiaobo, the renegade Chinese intellectual who kept vigil on Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protect protesters from encroaching soldiers, promoted a pro-democracy charter that brought him an 11-year prison sentence and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 2010 while locked away, died on Thursday. He was 61. […]
The Chinese government revealed he had liver cancer in late June only after it was virtually beyond treatment. Officially, Mr. Liu gained medical parole. But even as he faced death, he was kept silenced and under guard in a hospital in northeastern China, still a captive of the authoritarian controls that he had fought for decades.
As Bill Bishop points out in his Sinocism newsletter, Liu’s death will be difficult for even Beijing’s most dedicated apologists to spin. “The last Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to be effectively killed by his own government was Carl Ossietsky, in Germany in 1938,” Bishop notes. “Does Xi care that the the likely precedent here for Beijing will be pre-World War II Nazi Germany?”
Another question follows from that one: will the West’s newfound defenders of Xi Jinping care that the man they have anointed in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as the champion of the “liberal world order” drove a courageous dissident to his death? Or will they persist in the delusion that Xi is a liberal darling, content to overlook his human rights abuses so long as he delivers rhetorical paeans to globalization and needles Trump on the world stage?
Sadly, the answer is not clear. Many in the West have already proven easy marks as Xi has tried to reinvent himself as a principled defender of international values. All it took was a single speech at Davos for the plaudits to pour in: China has become the “global grown-up,” claimed the front cover of The Economist. Beijing would now be seen “as the linchpin of global economic stability,” raved Bessma Momani in Newsweek, while “Trump’s America [would] no longer play the role of enforcing the liberal rules and norms the country once coveted and benefited from.” Susan Shirk, a former China hand in the Clinton administration, perhaps went the furthest in singing Xi’s praises to The Guardian:
“Let’s lavish praise on them … I think it was super-smart of Xi Jinping to go to Davos and give the speech … More credit to him, really.” […]
“I believe the United States actually has sponsored China’s emergence as a constructive global power – not just allowed it but really, actively encouraged it – and I don’t see anything bad about that. The only bad thing is that the United States is not just sitting by the sidelines, but actively subverting [the status quo].”