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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The strange destinies of Liu Xiaobo and Wen Jiabao

October 13, 2010

Claude Arpi salutes the Nobel prize committee for
giving the peace prize to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo
October 8, 2010

On May 19, 1989, the director of the general
office of the Chinese Communist Party, walked
with his boss, CCP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang
to meet the youth striking on Tiananmen Square.
Zhao told the students: "I have to ask you to
think carefully about the future". He assured
them that all issues could be dealt with peacefully.

One of the recriminations of the students was
that their protest was considered as 'turmoil' by
the party rather than a patriotic movement. For
the youth on the Square, that mattered greatly:
they felt that their motivations were being
questioned. The name of the director was Wen Jiabao.

Two weeks later, as the People's Liberation
Army's tank rolled into the same Square and
cornered the remaining students, another man
acted as a negotiator between the students and
the troops. It is said that he managed to broker
a deal with the army and thanks to him, some students escaped the bloodshed.

The name of this man is Lui Xiaobo.

While the first is today prime minister of the
second most powerful nation in the world, the
second is serving an 11-year sentence somewhere
in China. On Friday, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

If you read their declarations, you may think
that the two share a lot in common. Recently
Premier Wen Jiabao was in the United States where
he was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria [ Images ]
for CNN's Global Public Square. Zakaria asked him
about an article that Wen had written on the most
liberal Chinese leader since the Communist
take-over in 1949: "You wrote an article about
your old boss, Hu Yaobang. In it, you praise him.
Do you think in retrospect that Hu Yaobang was a
very good leader of China?" Wen immediately
answered: "Yes, I think I have given a fair
assessment of the history of this person. He made
his own contributions to China's reform and opening up."

Then the journalist asked Wen about freedom in
China: "Can you be as strong and creative a
nation with so many restrictions on freedom of
expression, with the internet being censored?"
The suave Premier, known as Grandpa Wen in the
Middle Kingdom, replied: "I believe freedom of
speech is indispensable, for any country, a
country in the course of development and a
country that has become strong. Freedom of speech
has been incorporated into the Chinese constitution.

"I often say that we should not only let people
have the freedom of speech, we more importantly
must create conditions to let them criticise the
work of the government. It is only when there is
the supervision and critical oversight from the
people that the government will be in a position
to do an even better job, and employees of
government departments will be the true public servants of the people."

Well, for this man, freedom is just an empty
word. He had recently sent the Nobel Laureate to jail.

What crime had Lui committed? He had drafted and
signed the Charter 08 asking for constitutional reforms in China.

On Christmas Eve 2009, apparently to avoid
international reactions (journalists are usually
busy with family celebrations and not bothered
about scoops), after a two-hour trial, the No 1
Intermediate People's Court in Beijing [ Images ]
read in just 10 minutes, an 11-page sentence.

Liu was informed of his crime: 'incitement of
subversion of state power'; a vague charge,
always useful for the Party to book dissidents.

The Chinese government had argued that Liu had
exceeded the limits of freedom of expression. He
had authored writings 'openly slandering and
inciting others to overthrow our country's state
power'. The appeals court which upheld the
original sentence said: "Furthermore, the crime
was committed over a long period of time, and the
subjective malice was immense. The published
articles were widely linked, reproduced, and
viewed, spreading vile influence. He is a major
criminal offender and should be given severe punishment according to the law."

Since 1989, Liu has been one of China's most prominent human rights activists.

Liu was born in Changchun in Jilin province in
1955. He got a BA in literature from Jilin
University in 1982 and his MA from Beijing Normal
University in 1984. He later joined Beijing
Normal University, where he received a PhD in
1988. For a few years, he was a visiting scholar
at several foreign universities including
Columbia University, the University of Oslo and the University of Hawaii.

Already in January 1991, Liu had been charged
with 'counter-revolutionary propaganda and
incitement'. Luckily for him, at that time he was
exempted from criminal punishment, but in October
1996, he had to serve three years of re-education
through labour sentence for 'disturbing public
order' (in other words criticising the Communist Party of China).

In a statement released by Xinhua news agency,
the court said it had "strictly followed the
legal procedures" and "fully protected Liu's litigation rights".

What is this Charter 08?

Charter 08 was a manifesto initially signed by
some 300 Chinese intellectuals, human rights
activists, lawyers and officials who proposed the
blueprint for improving the political system,
promoting political reform and democratisation in
the People's Republic of China. The signatories
included prominent citizens including Tibetan
blogger Woeser and Bao Tong, Zhao Ziyang's secretary.

The Charter was released on December 10, 2008, on
the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was
inspired by Charter 77 issued by dissidents in
Czechoslovakia under Vaclav Havel.

The demands included: amending the Constitution,
separation of powers, legislative democracy, an
independent judiciary, public control of public
servants, guarantee of human rights, rural-urban
equality and freedom of association, assembly,
expression and religion. A vast program!

In 1981, the famous Chinese dissident Wei
Jingsheng wrote to his family "it became very
clear that I was the chicken killed as a warning
to the monkeys". He was referring to his writing
on the Democracy Wall in Beijing in 1979 and his
essay on the Fifth Modernisation. Paramount
leader Deng Xiaoping had spoken of the China's
Four Modernisations, Wei had added a fifth -- democracy.

Wei believed that for Deng dissidents did not
matter much; the old leader's main worry was the
party; he just wanted to make sure that nobody
could be bitten by the democracy virus. In the
process a few chickens like Wei were sacrificed.
Deng created some examples 'to warn the monkeys'.

Thirty years later, the situation has not changed
much, despite Wen's sweet words.

It is symptomatic that in June 2006 the state
council (the Chinese cabinet) ordered an
eight-episode TV research entitled 'Preparing for
danger in times of safety -- Historic lessons
learned from the demise of Soviet Communism.' The
project was given to no less than the Academy of
Social Sciences, the prime Government think tank.
Later CCP's members were requested to watch the
series and carefully study and 'discuss' the
conclusions offered by the Chinese President
himself. Hu Jintao affirmed: "There are multiple
factors contributing to the disintegration of the
Soviet Union, a very important one being
Khrushchev throwing away Stalin's knife and
Gorbachev's open betrayal of Marxism-Leninism."

Without a 'knife', the Soviet Union could not survive.

Today, without jailing persons thinking
differently, the party and its apparatchiks cannot survive.

But for how long?

One should congratulate the Nobel Prize Committee
for their courage. One can't imagine the
'diplomatic' pressure under which they have
worked for the past few weeks. Beijing does not like democracy.
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