- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony convenes in Oslo on Friday, the winner’s seat will be vacant and the award will go unclaimed. China has unleashed a scorched-earth strategy against imprisoned human rights activist Liu Xiaobo and his family in a vain attempt to expunge international recognition of its native son’s achievement.

For all of Beijing’s promises that it’s traveling on the path to modernity, China refuses to concede that any authority outside the domestic Communist Party can define who among its 1.3 billion souls is worthy of honor. While the Nobel Committee has chosen to recognize Mr. Liu “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China,” Chinese communist leaders view him as a dangerous subversive. From their perspective, allowing him to claim his prize would be tantamount to admitting his criticisms are legitimate and would shatter the supremacy of Chinese authority.

Such persecution is counterproductive. The harder Mr. Liu’s critics try to silence him with anonymity in the Middle Kingdom’s gulag, the louder his voice is amplified by global attention. As the recent release of democracy advocate Ang San Suu Kyi in Burma shows, an authoritarian regime cannot restrain the conscience of the entire world by keeping one dissident under arrest.

Mr. Liu’s current incarceration caps a lifetime of resistance to government abuse. He participated in protests against China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, studied in the United States and Norway in the ‘80s and returned to his homeland at the outbreak of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. During the ensuing crackdown, he was imprisoned, released in 1991 and rearrested in 1996 for calling for the impeachment of then-President Jiang Zemin. In 2009, he was sentenced to 11 years behind bars for his role as an author of Charter 08, a human rights manifesto published to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008.

Not content to prevent Mr. Liu from accepting his honor, the Communist government has warned his wife and family against traveling to Oslo to accept the prize on his behalf. Beijing has even mounted a campaign to discourage other countries from sending representatives to the award ceremony. Russia, Cuba, Iraq and Morocco - among others - have bowed to pressure and stated they won’t attend. Special scorn has been reserved for the home of the Nobel Institute, Norway, which announced last week that China had suspended bilateral trade talks.

It’s important that this heavyhanded attempt to stifle the natural aspiration for liberty doesn’t succeed. President Hu Jintao should be reminded when he visits Washington next month that the powers of his office don’t confer the authority to defy fundamental rights. The yearning for freedom is common to all, and as China’s Nobel laureate has proved, efforts to extinguish this light make it burn with greater intensity.