China Is Confused by the Concept of “Dissident”

So the Nobel Committee is going to hand its Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo , if it can find him, which it can’t, because China has him locked away in a prison somewhere. Liu has been there since the end of 2008, when he and a group of others produced a petition titled Charter 08 , calling for China to turn away from “an authoritarian political way of life” and to embrace democratic reforms and human rights.

China reportedly warned the Nobel Committee not to honor Liu. Part of the reason that people like Liu are in prison is China’s growing sense of immunity to foreign criticism, even as it becomes more and more engaged with the rest of the world.

It’s not surprising that the People’s Republic would feel that way. Right before the Charter 08 movement, during the Beijing Olympics, the International Olympic Committee cheerfully acquiesced as China set up special Olympic protest zones and then arrested people who applied to use them .

China has encouraged the liberalized West to treat its internal affairs with caution and respect. China must be allowed to reform at its own natural pace, so as not to jeopardize its growth and security. The implicit message is that the harder outside reformers may push, the more defensive or repressive China’s reaction may be.

But the Nobel Committee is declaring that sensitive approach to be a dead end. Liu is already in prison. What else can China do?

China’s Foreign Ministry is furious about the committee’s decision, the New York Times reports:

“The Nobel Committee giving the Peace Prize to such a person runs completely contrary to the aims of the prize,” Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman said in a statement posted on the ministry’s Web site. “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law.”

This is the closed loop of China’s logic on the subject of its would-be reformers. The Nobel Committee was already aware that peacefully criticizing the government of China was considered a violation of Chinese law. That’s the reason it gave Liu the prize.