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Published: Sunday, 12/12/2010

China's thin skin

The Chinese government's reaction to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo reminded the world of the nature of Communist Party rule in China.

The award, which was conferred late last week in Oslo on an empty chair, evoked a furious response by Beijing. The government showed again how thin-skinned and insecure it is about public criticism from its citizens, and how it strikes back against its critics.

The symbolism is reminiscent of the famous footage of a lone Chinese dissident standing in front of a People's Liberation Army tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It depicted one person standing defiantly against the autocratic political-military machine that rules the nation of 1.3 billion people.

China is keeping Mr. Liu locked up for the next 11 years in a prison for his pro-democracy dissidence. The government also put his wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest so she couldn't accept the peace prize in his name, prevented other members of his family and friends from leaving China, and reportedly arrested another 20 political activists.

Broadcasts by the BBC and CNN went black in China during the hour of the Oslo ceremony. China also put heat on other countries not to send representatives to the awards ceremony.

Shamefully, 20 nations bowed to Beijing's economic and other pressure. The no-shows included such U.S. allies and proteges as Afghanistan, Colombia, Egypt, and Iraq.

The United States owes China more than $1 trillion. Americans are major customers of Chinese-made goods. Still, America sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the Nobel ceremony.

But because President Obama won last year's Nobel Peace Prize, it would have been appropriate for him to attend in person, if he had wanted to send a courageous message about what Americans think of China's ruling political philosophy and approach to criticism.

As it was, the implied message is that the level of America's debt to China and its dependence on the Asian giant for cheap imports made it prudent for the United States only to nip gently the hand that feeds it.



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