Nobel Peace for Tibet?

During our stay in Dharamsala, we had the good fortune of being in the same guest house as an American named Erik Zelko. Erik is currently working as the Editor for ‘Contact’ magazine, a local English language publication which focuses on all things Tibetan. He was looking for volunteer contributors and I said I would help him out. At the time Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned Chinese democratic activist, was controversially awarded this years Nobel Peace Prize. I felt this development could have an impact upon the Tibet situation and therefore I submitted this article which was published in the November issue of Contact. The awards ceremony will take place on Friday and so far China and eighteen other countries have declared they will not be attending. 

Nobel Peace for Tibet? by Carl Chapman

“We support the Dalai Lama’s appeal for peace, and hope that the ethnic conflict can be dealt with according to the principles of goodwill, peace and non-violence. We condemn any violent act against innocent people, strongly urge the Chinese government to stop the violent suppression, and appeal to the Tibetan people likewise not to engage in violent activities.”

Taken from ‘Twelve Suggestions for Dealing with the Tibet Situation’, a petition which Liu Xiaobo co-wrote in the aftermath of the Tibet protests of 2008.

On December 25th 2009, human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was jailed by the Chinese authorities. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison and an additional two years deprivation of political rights for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu is one of the leading advocates of peaceful democratic reform in The People’s Republic of China and was involved in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989; he is also a committed campaigner for Tibetan freedom.

On 7 October 2010, during his 4th prison term, Norwegian TV networks reported that Liu Xiaobo was a candidate for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, and on 8 October 2010 the Nobel Committee awarded him the prize “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”. The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded with anger and issued a statement proclaiming, “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law. Awarding the prize to Liu runs completely counter to the principle of the award and is also a desecration of the Peace Prize.”

In receiving the award, Liu joins an esteemed list of previous winners such as Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and of course, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who himself is a firm believer in democracy. If campaigners such as Liu succeed in their aims, China will move into a period of increased freedom in both personal expression and information. This could have a profound affect on the electorate who, empowered with new knowledge, may be ready to cast a vote for Tibetan freedom. It is difficult to predict whether this would mean ‘full independence’, or a ‘middle way’ approach, as proposed by His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

Lhakpa Tsering is Director of McCleod Ganj based ‘Volunteer Tibet’, and he feels that Liu’s award is unlikely to have an immediate effect on the Tibet issue.

“In my opinion even a democratically governed China will never vote for an ‘Independent Tibet’. However, if a large scale democratic movement does take place in China, then during the transitional period the country will be very unstable. It is at this stage that Tibet can claim its independence, in much the same way that the Post-Soviet states did after the Soviet Union collapsed.”

Liu Xiaobo has requested that his wife Liu Xia collect the award on his behalf. However, she currently remains under house arrest and fears that the Chinese government will prevent her from attending the award ceremony in December. In a recent interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, she voiced her concerns stating, “I can’t even get out of my home, how could I go out of the country?” Chinese authorities have continued to protest against Liu’s award by blocking the Nobel Peace Prize website along with other independent news sources.

The aftershock of Liu Xiaobo’s achievement may take some time to be felt within Tibet, but the future of the country is inextricably linked to the political climate within China. The power of democracy lies with an informed electorate, free to make decisions and to vote on the basis of their knowledge. If these freedoms are made available to the Chinese public, then as the Dalai Lama states, “truth and justice will ultimately triumph.”

The Nobel Prize award ceremony will take place in Oslo, Norway on December 10.

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