USA versus China, and a Peace Prize

EDITORIAL, 17 Jan 2011

#147 | Johan Galtung

Two Hong Kong researchers, Barry Sautman ( and Yan Hairong, have analyzed this in “The Ignoble Hero: Liu Xiaobo and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize”.  The issue merits attention as it highlights peace theory and practice.  They have been suspected of toeing the Beijing line.  But theirs is different: “the Chinese government should not have imprisoned Liu, but he does not deserve to be a Nobel laureate”.  Nobody should be arrested for opinions only, and if China has other reasons, then put the cards on the table for public scrutiny.

Charter 08 is not about peace, but about Western state theory, with division of powers, independent legislature and judiciary, democracy and human rights, like the freedoms of association, assembly and expression, adding federalism, environment and social security.  And free markets and private property.  Right wing social democracy.  There is a Chinese point, also good: abolition of the hukou registration system, like in Japan (koseki), Vietnam and North, not South, Korea.  But peace or interstate relations are not addressed.

Of course a prize can be given for a path-breaking movie, speech or charter that opens roads to peace, if not yet in fact, at least in theory (if neither fact, nor theory, then the decision seems flawed).  The peace prize was not given to the Charter group, however, but to one person, Liu.  And that makes it indispensable to know what Liu stands for.

Asked in 1988, 33 years old, under what conditions China could achieve real historical change he famously replied “Three hundred years of colonization. It took one hundred years for Hong Kong”.  He confirmed this in 2006, 50+ years old, adding “To choose Westernization is to choose to be human”.

Imagine some American had argued during or after the War of Independence in favor of London rule, or some Norwegian during or after the Second World War had argued the return of Nazi occupation with Quisling.  Such people no doubt existed, but may have preferred to keep silent, not trusting the freedom of expression.  However, that is not the point, but that the Norwegian parliament’s peace prize committee knew this (given research by Norwegian and international experts), awarded him the prize, and indirectly endorsed Liu’s view on colonialism.

Liu also has very strong views against Chinese culture as “wimpy, spineless and fucked-up”, a “hodge-podge which is neither fish nor fowl”.   Of course freedom of expression implies the freedom to criticize one’s own culture, including confucianism, like Liu does.  However, that is not the point, but that the Norwegian parliament’s committee knew this, and indirectly endorsed Liu’s view by awarding him the prize. Liu is enthusiastic about US warfare, “the Korean war, the confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, and the Vietnam war”.  “The war against Saddam Hussein is just!  The decision by President Bush is right!”  He blames Palestinians in the Israel/Palestine conflict as “provocateurs”.  Such views are often found in the West, like at the top of the Norwegian Labor Party, now waging war with the USA in Afghanistan, and Liu should enjoy the same freedom.  But that is not the point, but that the Norwegian parliament’s committee knew this, and indirectly endorsed Liu’s view on war by awarding the prize.

This does not meet Nobel’s criteria (Fredrik Heffermehl, The Nobel Peace Prize.  What Nobel Really Wanted, Praeger, 2010; also in Chinese and Russian).  The decision was simply seriously flawed, logically, empirically and theoretically.

Let us focus on civil and political rights–CPR–only; inside a country CPR may be each other’s cause and effect, but “peace” to most, like to Alfred Nobel, is between countries. If the “right to life” was extended across borders CPR would ban war, and ban exploitation; with millions dying from direct and structural violence.  But CPR do not.  Countries high on CPR like USA, Israel and UK are also very high on belligerence (number of wars/number of years of existence).

And the theory?  What we see is rather that countries high on CPR seem to feel entitled to warfare to impose human rights.  But, like democracy, human rights must come from the inside, not imposed, even by breaking them.  Free and fair multi-party national elections can even legitimize going to war, and their absence in China comes with almost no inter-state war.  If we add to that definition “transparency and dialogue”, then WikiLeaks shows the lack thereof.  Democracy by majority serves as license to kill rather than a duty to be transparent across borders and use dialogue for solutions.

How about the freedom to argue, loud and clear, against one’s country’s aggressiveness?  Excellent, and that has put many in the three countries in prison.  Ossietzky can be seen in that light.  But Liu’s aim is China, and he endorses war.

But would not CPR and democracy create peace in China?

Sautman and Yan show that this is not necessarily so. CPR may block economic and social human rights, which then leads to violence.  Both USA and China need both, and should cooperate on both rather than using deficits as political arms.  The USA is assisted in this by a client country.  And that country should have given the right to award the Nobel Peace Prize to others when entering an alliance – NATO-1949 – with one of them.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 17 Jan 2011.

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4 Responses to “USA versus China, and a Peace Prize”

  1. Dear Johan,

    Thank you for proving me right !!!!! although it doesn’t make me proud. On the contrary, I always say “I wish I was wrong”.

    You now write “It looks more like democracy is a license to kill, and not an obligation to be transparent across borders and use dialogue for solutions.”

    This is what I’ve been saying for decades, although I did – and still don’t – hesitate in saying it. This means I don’t need the first four words.

    I just say “Democracy is a license to kill, and not an obligation to be transparent across borders and use dialogue for solutions.”

    It is very easy for Democratic Presidents or Prime Ministers. It doesn’t matter if they know or don’t know about militarism and killing. Apart from politicians, they can be businessmen, lawyers, actors or whatever. However, once they reach the top political position, they also become “Commander-in-Chief” of the Armed Forces of the country they govern.

    This is their “License to kill”.
    However, this “power” is only “appearances”, as the President obeys orders or instructions come from those with the “real” power, that is: bankers, military manufacturers (from bullets to war-ships), press, gold and petrol barons, the Vatican, etc. If the President does not “obey”, like Kennedy tried to do, he must go, by whatever means.

    This is Democracy for you,


  2. Sungyi says:

    I DON’T think your points are wide enough.
    u only analysize things from a few lines.
    have you ever read other of his books and articles?

    Do you know Liu’s life (or other dissents)?
    in what circumstances that they have been living?
    it is constant brutal abuse and life threat, including friends and families!
    Totally loss of freedom!

    Have you ever lived in China or other totalitarian countries?
    Have you ever experienced the madness and hell of
    the contemporary history of China under the biggest triad
    society in the world? Chinese Communist Party.
    the wide spread famine, the cultural revolution, the class struggle,
    the killing of dissidents & intellectuals, propaganda, lies,
    the censorship…many more.

    are you a scholar only knows how to live right in the right place?
    but do you have the courage and vision to live right in a totally
    wrong place? Would you just flee it and enjoy your money
    and glory?

    Liu is not a perfect person (is there any?) and his viewpoints
    at time may not be completely ‘right’. but he is indeed an exceptional
    person, intelligent, has a good heart, an unbeatable spirit and courageous.
    People should have chances of reflection and clarification.
    but sadly, he (and many others) are deprived of expression
    himself (themselves).

    As a chinese, I think the prize does mean a lot (not only to the Chinese).
    It reminds the world what the real China and Chinese Gov’t really is.

  3. Gorantrnn says:

    Liu is obviously holding western hegemonic ideologies as a lighting rod. I am not sure this person deserves to receive Noble Piece Prize, by any means.
    Let me just rewrite a paragraph from the above, again, “… Liu is enthusiastic about US warfare, “the Korean war, the confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, and the Vietnam war”. And “the war against Saddam Hussein is just! The decision by President Bush is right! …” He blames Palestinians in the Israel/Palestine conflict as “provocateurs”. It seems as if he didn’t have these statements mention in a one moment. It seems as it to be Liu’s belief. As such I do not see this person worth of Nobel Piece Prize. As a matter of fact, I see this to be just another, in line of many recent, provocation of China by the US. Since WikiLeaks, what becomes even more obvious, is how those worldly recognized “institutions of Democracy” are just plain tool of American or Western Capitalist Imperialism. I guess your free China means a China that will follow whatever West is telling it to do, as all those newly “freed” Democracies of the former European eastern block countries so submissively do. I can see how they are free, and independent.

    Every revolution is bloody and horrible, do not assign it only to revolutions where Communist forces took power. What seems to me that only the revolutions where the forces of right, and bourgeoisie took power into their own hands are considered worthy. And why would that regime, communist, in this case, peacefully allow change of its system and regime. Do you believe that the US of Western Europe would allow change of their regimes and systems peacefully. The US assassinated Martin Luther King, assassinated Malcom X, assassinated both Kennedy, going quietly against anarchist, socialists, and everyone who would like to change the regime in the US. People are loosing jobs in this county for engaging in real struggle, FBI is on the neck of peace protesters.

    The question would be, Can you create a China that will be free and at the same time be free and critical of Western abusive Imperialism? Can you create a China that will have a participatory democracy but not capitalism, not engaged in Imperialism? Is it possible with 1 and more billion of population to do something like it?
    Can you search different ideas of truly left socialists possibilities of participatory systems, and then engage with Chinese government implying to them that they are of left root and origins. Use your creativity in those domains, push for return to truth of left socialist ideas. And do not to look into Democracy that carry implied tail of obedience to Capitalism, Western Europe and the US Imperialism?
    Well, I guess one can, but it seems to me that then Nobel Prize for “Peace” might not go to those who have those standards.

    I guess, in that case one might not get that much funding from the pillars of Democracy, “National Endowment for Democracy,” and what not.

  4. I agree with this insight.