Sovereign Jealousy

The Chinese authorities still do not know that the juries do not give the prizes, but it is the winners who give honor to those who award them. Or, on some occasions, it is the winner’s own enemies who contribute most to the glory of the prize: first with their efforts to prevent it from being awarded, and later by boycotting its acceptance. If Beijing were aware of this, it would not have devoted itself to organizing a campaign against the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, where they have showcased displays more of weakness and anxiety than of strength and power. Nor would they have spent all diplomatic efforts to break, without success, the awards ceremony to be celebrated tomorrow in Oslo.

The result of their efforts to boycott the ceremony creates an interesting geopolitical map of the world, in which one can color the countries politically untethered to China, the countries with economic ties stronger than any ideology and the countries who are directly subordinate and dependent on them. This is also without counting those who indulge Beijing merely for the bill it brings them, since they have their own dissidents who they would not like to one day see victorious. In any case, the amount of information is not bad regarding the new state of the world that this map divulges to us. We find, for example, that Colombia, Morocco, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (all Western allies) are countries that are deferential and obliged to the Chinese regime.

China is a country deserving of many Nobel Prizes. It has received a few, but they have been given through the back door and with great disgust by authorities. This was the case of the Dalai Lama (peace in 1989) and of the poet and artist Gao Xingjiang (literature in 2000), the first recognized as Tibetan and the second as a French citizen. The physics prize has gone to Chinese scientists on four occasions, but all of them with American or British citizenship. China does not have prizewinners in other disciplines, such as economics, medicine and chemistry as it should, corresponding to the superpower it has become. However, time will solve this matter. In the meantime, it is evident that Chinese authorities have some difficulty when it comes to relating to Western institutions, as shown by the strangling of the Nobel Prize for Liu.

Their problem is one of sovereign jealousy, which drives the current Chinese regime to reject all critical analysis and any external judgment. The opinions or public attitudes that put their authority in question are immediately converted into an assault on national sovereignty. But the extreme irritability that the Nobel Prize produced should be a critical factor in recent history, as is the repressed memory of the events of Tiananmen in 1989. Liu is not just any dissident. Apart from being the author of Charter 08, a democratic manifesto signed by more than 12,000 citizens, the new Nobel Peace Prize winner is a veteran of the Tiananmen protests who suffered imprisonment for those events in which he played the role of conciliator and peacemaker.

The forgetting and the censorship of Tiananmen implies the forging a sort of implicit pact between the Chinese elite and the rising middle class, which primarily preserved the monopoly of the Communist power and which gave to the middle class, in turn, the benefits of capitalist prosperity. This pact forms the basis of a new model of development, invented in Singapore, that has hatched the new Chinese superpower and is encountering imitators all over the world, as the British journalist John Kampfner writes in his book, “Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty.”

To give the prize to Liu is to give the prize to the members of the Tiananmen resistance who have not thrown in the towel and have not accepted the surrender of freedom in exchange for prosperity. It is an insult to the intelligence and the dignity of the citizens to present, like the Chinese authorities and some Western friends do, political freedoms and democracy as obstacles to bringing the hundreds of millions of Chinese who still have very low incomes and precarious living conditions out of poverty.

The marvelous results reaped by Shanghai’s education system in the PISA report (the world leader in all fields of competence, such as reading, math, and science), should not be read as a successful outcome of the Chinese model of development without freedom but, on the contrary, as a demonstration of the educational and cultural maturity of China to access the benefits of freedom and pluralism. Behind sovereign jealousy, an imperial shortsightedness prevails, one that is of the Forbidden City and not of the great emerging superpower of the 21st century.

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