China, now an economic Superpower, Flexes it muscles Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC

In last week’s column I described how China, because of its economic prowess, has now entered the global stage.  This new strength was evident at the G20 meeting in Seoul South Korea on November 11 and 12, 2010. Because of its growing balance-of-payments with China, President Obama wanted the Chinese to revalue upwards their currency the yuan.  He did not succeed.  An editorial in The Guardian, describes what happened. “The summit communiqué is full of good intentions, expression of co-operation and agreements to make future agreements. But the bottom line is that China has not back down. It went on to make a very important political judgement. “ If you seek a symbolic moment when the United States ceased to command the 21st century world and ceded its place to the Asian century, this week in Seoul was arguably that moment.”[1] Personally, I think that defining moment was reach almost one year ago when China scuppered any possibility of a significant agreement on climate change at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009.

China is also using its vast economic resources to silence any criticism of its  human rights record.  The most recent row between China, human rights organisations and some Western governments has centred around the detention of Liu Xiaobo. He is a 54 year scholar, poet, writer and former professor of literature. In 1989, during the pro-democracy protest in Tianamen Square in Beijing, Liu Xiaobo staged a hunger strike. He played a significant role in negotiating the peaceful retreat by the pro-democracy students.  Since then, he has been detained many times.

In 2008, he helped draft a pro-democracy manifesto calling for more freedom, human rights and equality.  His “crime” from the Chinese government’s perspective was the call to end the Chinese Communist Party’s monopoly on  power. Initially, only 303 Chinese citizens signed the Charter. However, even thought it only survived for a short time on the internet before being axed by the censors, more than 10, 000 people signed the document. Liu Xiaobo was arrested the day before the document was published and charged with “subversion.” He was sentenced to 11 year prison sentence on Christmas Day 2009.  The Chinese government was furious when, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Mr. Liu the Nobel Peace Prize on October 8, 2010. It had warned that Norwegian government that awarding the Nobel Prize to Mr. Liu would strain diplomatic relations between the two governments. The Nobel Peace award put Chinese government’s human rights record back on the international agenda.

Immediately after the new broke, the Chinese government did two things. Inside China they placed Mr. Liu’s wife under house arrest. She had publicly invited scores of Chinese activists and celebrities to attend the Oslo ceremony. The authorities seized her mobile phone and placed security cameras on the building. There has also been a significant crackdown on other human rights activists. Pu Zhiqiang, a human rights lawyer, claimed that he has been under surveillance since Mr. Liu’s award was announced. Speaking of the Chinese authorities he said that, “ They know they don’t have any legal grounds for this, but they fear nothing.”  The Chinese government also published polls purporting to reflect the views of ordinary people who expressed displeasure that the Nobel prise was awarded to a “dissident.” Stories also appeared in the media, assailing the human rights record of the United State and other western countries.[2]

On the international front, Chinese officials began to use its wealth to encourage  other countries into boycotting the ceremony at which the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded.  While the United States and a few other governments called for Mr. Liu to be released, some other countries have been very circumspect, because they do not want to antagonize the Chinese government and, as a consequence lose business opportunities in China.  In early November, the Chinese officials called in foreign diplomats to warn them against their countries attending the Nobel Awards ceremony.[3] The Chinese authorities have let it be known that there will be consequences for countries which attend the award ceremonies.

Geir Lundestad, the director of the Nobel Institute told reporters on November 15th 2010, that several ambassadors had asked to have the date of accepting the invitation to the ceremony postponed to give them more time to get clear instructions from the home countries. It is a new world and China has a lot of clout!


[1] “G20 Seoul survivors.” The Guardian, November 13, 2010, page 42.

[2] Michael Wines, “China Urges Europeans st Snub Nobel Ceremony,


[3] Ibid.




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