Austin Bay

The difference between savage poverty and silky wealth is significant, but the common point remains dictatorship. The Chinese government continues to portray Liu as a criminal and his prize as illicit interference in China's internal affairs. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu made that clear during a ministry press conference: "Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to a criminal serving a prison sentence," Ma said, "shows a lack of respect for China's judicial system."

Ma's propaganda line is supposed to stoke both neo-nationalist and paleo-imperial Chinese indignation. Peel its stinking onion back a layer, and Ma is damning the prize committee for handing China a "loss of face." Those scoundrels in Oslo failed to give China's communist emperors appropriate political and cultural deference. As a result, China's vice minister of agriculture canceled his meeting with Norway's fisheries minister. Take that, insouciant Scandinavians.

Touting Chinese courts as venues of justice is a reach. Economic corruption is the chief complaint among China's hundreds of millions of discontented citizens, but Beijing knows police and judicial corruption also riles the populace.

The Chinese government's heavy-handed reaction to Liu's prize provides an insight into China's great 21st century internal struggle. China's economic success is impressive, but it teeters on a very iffy political deal. China's privileged communist elites seek the benefits of economic liberalization (including free trade) without concomitant political liberalization. The blood of 2000 Chinese citizens slain at Tiananmen Square demonstrated the lengths the communists will go to enforce this bargain.

China's continued economic growth, however, requires modern technology and communications. The Internet is an essential economic tool, but one that frustrates an authoritarian government's ability to deny or control information. Over time, an informed population becomes an opinionated population, and dissident opinions endanger the communists' harsh bargain.

Ultimately, the communist government confronts the human spirit's will to freedom, with Liu as its courageous personification. No wonder the government is afraid.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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