- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The contrast between the Nobel Committee’s choice for its Peace Prize a year ago and today couldn’t be more stark. In 2009, the Norwegian group tapped President Obama for its prestigious award. On Friday, they chose a genuine hero: Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Mr. Obama was nominated within days of taking office, and the committee ridiculously claimed it awarded him the prize not for his accomplishments, but for the promise of what he might achieve. Mr. Liu was selected “for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Such is the distinction between style and substance.

Mr. Obama has performed on the world stage with an audience of billions. Mr. Liu’s stage is a lonely Chinese prison cell, where he’s serving an 11-year sentence for his role as co-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.

The son of a soldier, Mr. Liu began yearning for freedom as a university student in the 1970s, when young Chinese reacted against the government-orchestrated chaos of the previous decade’s Cultural Revolution. In the 1980s, he spent time abroad as a visiting scholar in Oslo and then at Columbia University. The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests brought him home to Beijing, where he was instrumental in persuading student demonstrators to vacate the square prior to the start of violence on June 4. Mr. Liu was imprisoned following the crackdown and released in 1991 after he “repented,” according to state media. He was rearrested five years later for signing a letter calling for the impeachment of then-President Jiang Zemin and spent three more years in prison.

Mr. Liu’s persecution calls attention to Mr. Obama’s thin record as a peacemaker. The president initiated major overtures to the Islamic world - the locus of the world’s most virulent strife - by bowing to heads of state, downgrading the U.S. posture against radical Islam and offering an open hand of friendship. In return, he’s been met with a closed fist, and his popularity rating in Islamic nations has declined.

Actions do speak louder than words. Mr. Liu’s persistent acts of defiance in the name of freedom have the power to inspire real change in China and elsewhere. Evidently, the Nobel Committee learned a lesson from its poor choice last year and took pains to rectify the mistake by honoring a real hero this time around.