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Opinion: A new chance for China's democracy movement

The massive protests by the Chinese government against the Nobel Peace Prize for Liu Xiaobo show just how afraid the leaders in Beijing are of critics such as Liu, Deutsche Welle's Adrienne Woltersdorf argues.

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The Nobel Peace Prize has repeatedly been among the most controversial awards worldwide. Each December in Oslo, the arguments about whether the right recipient was chosen can be just as fierce as the threats these winners often face because of their work. Individuals who take a stand for peace and reconciliation in difficult conflict situations tend to have more enemies than friends.

By awarding the detained Chinese professor of literature and democracy activist, Liu Xiabo, this year's Peace Prize in Oslo on October 8, the Nobel Committee made an apt comment on the changing global balance of power. This is how its decision should be interpreted.

A rising power like China needs to respect human and civil rights for the benefit of all mankind - that was the message from Oslo.

Adrienne Woltersdorf, the head of Deutsche Welle's Chinese service, is in Oslo

Adrienne Woltersdorf, the head of Deutsche Welle's Chinese service, is in Oslo

It is a slap in the Chinese authorities' face. They have reacted accordingly and suppressed any domestic discourse about the so eagerly awaited - and now so despised - first Chinese Nobel laureate in history. In addition, many activists, including Liu's wife Liu Xia, were preemptively intimidated or simply put under house arrest. The regime's harsh reactions show that the Norwegian jury really touched a nerve in Beijing.

But it is ridiculous that those loyal to the regime allege that the Nobel Committee intended to provocatively and maliciously challenge China's rise. The truth, in fact, is the precise opposite. For quite some time, even veteran cadres of the Mao era have been calling for more freedom of thought in China. Just recently, a group of influential former cadres reiterated this demand in a letter to the new party leadership.

A rapidly changing society, they argued, needs freedom of debate and opportunity for criticism in order to make wise decisions for the future. Such voices will be encouraged by the Nobel Peace Prize, and only the Chinese can decide how China should develop. In this sense, the Peace Prize for Liu Xiaobo is also a unique chance for the badly divided and marginalized Chinese democracy movement.

Oslo could thus become the starting point for a new movement. But before this happens, democracy activists inside and outside of China will have to prove that they can restrain their somtimes excessive egos, and dedicate themselves to the collective cause. The powers-that-be in Beijing will do everything they can to continue to marginalize the proponents of democracy. They have given sufficient proof during the past weeks that they are perfectly capable of doing this.

But the Chinese civil rights activists now have an internationally recognized leader. They have a prudent manifesto - Liu Xiaobo's "Charter '08" document - they have a sympathetic international audience, and they have the internet; all that they're missing is a single movement to unite them.

Author: Adrienne Woltersdorf (tb)
Editor: Arun Chowdhury

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