Opinion

Commentary: China's leaders show their paranoia

Liu Xiaobo, right, reading a letter on Oct. 28, 2008, beside the grave of Bao Zunxin, a Chinese historian who was jailed for his role in the Tiananmen Square democracy protests.
Liu Xiaobo, right, reading a letter on Oct. 28, 2008, beside the grave of Bao Zunxin, a Chinese historian who was jailed for his role in the Tiananmen Square democracy protests. AP

The world’s most populous nation is governed by a clique of unprincipled and frightened men.

So desperately insecure are China’s masters that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to one of their subjects is construed as an “attack” by foreign powers and an insult to the Chinese people.

It borders on the ludicrous to suggest that the Norwegian Nobel Committee could further dishonor a Beijing dictatorship that has made the absence of honor its principal rule of governance.

True, the recipient of the prize, Liu Xiaobo, is in prison, serving a term of 11 years. His offense? Advocating judicial reform and respect for human rights.

Outrageous suggestions indeed!

For good measure, his wife is effectively under house arrest, allowed to venture out only when accompanied by police.

A courageous advocate for political reform, Liu was among the authors of a manifesto titled Charter 80, published in December 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The declaration was adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly on a vote of 48-0, with eight nations abstaining. China’s was among the “yes” votes — for whatever little that has meant.

Among Charter 80’s demands: election of public officials; an independent judiciary; freedom of association and of assembly, expression and religion; and amendment of the constitution to establish and guarantee those rights.

Never mind that those are entitlements subscribed to — even if sometimes imperfectly enforced — by every other allegedly civilized country on the planet.

Or that some 10,000 people around the world, including many thoughtful individuals — even some prior communist officials inside China — have endorsed the charter.

It was way, way too much for the nervous bosses in Beijing and their judicial flunkies.

They reacted to that demonstration of courage by the people they rule in the only fashion they know — vindictively.

And in denouncing the award of the Nobel as a plot against them by a hostile world, those in the Chinese regime only compound their shame and unwittingly confess their paranoia.

Their power in some matters is very great.

They’ve harnessed the atom. They’ve ventured to the edge of space. They can silence cell phones and block the Internet. They can lock up their critics and dominate competition in the export of defective goods.

But what it’s clear they cannot do is master their crippling fear of change.

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