Professor Craig Scott is a Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School
of York University in Toronto, and Director of the Nathanson Centre on
Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security. He is also a member
of the Steering Committee of the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka
Campaign for Peace and Justice. He contributed the following comment.

On Friday, December 10, imprisoned pacifist dissident and Chinese
citizen, Liu Xiaobo, will receive in absentia the 2009 Nobel Peace
Prize. China has either detained or blocked the travel from China of
many dozens of people who might receive the prize on his behalf, and
it appears the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has decided to conduct
Friday’s ceremony with Liu’s photograph on an empty chair on the
stage.[1] The Committee has itself noted that the only other time in
the history of the Peace Prize that no one has physically received the
award was in the 1930s when another pacifist dissident, Carl von
Ossietzky, was not allowed to leave his country to receive the award.
That country was Nazi-ruled Germany.[2]

With its blustering and bordering-on-belligerent ‘diplomatic’ response
to the awarding of the prize to Liu, China has succeeded mostly in
deepening worries in the world about what kind of global citizen it
will be as its economic (and parallel military) power continues to
grow. An intemperate (dare we say, almost out of control) Foreign
Affairs spokesperson, Jiang Yu, lashes out and engages in the kind of
name calling we normally associate with the overblown rhetoric of the
governments of countries like Iran. Apparently, the Nobel Peace Prize
Committee consists of “’clowns’” who are “’orchestrating an anti-China
farce’.” [3] China’s rhetoric will undoubtedly appear even more out of
touch with reality when contrasted to what we can expect to be the
poignancy and dignified nature of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that
will take place in Oslo on Friday.

But China is not content to engage in its own tirade. Since the
announcement that Liu had won the Peace Prize, China has conducted a
campaign to let states around the world know, including through formal
letters sent by China to these states’ foreign ministries, that there
will be “consequences” in their bilateral relations with China if they
show support for the award of the Peace Prize to Liu. [4] More
specifically, China wants obedient ‘friends’ to support it by
boycotting the Peace Prize award ceremony. According to the The Globe
and Mail, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu claims that
“more than 100 countries and organizations would stay away from
Friday’s events in Oslo.” China does not elaborate on which countries
have decided to stand by its side or which “organizations” it is
thinking of – let alone how the total plausibly comes to 100 entities
who presumably have received invitations to attend the ceremony but
will now have declined those invitations.[5]

The closest we currently have to a measure of the success of China’s
boycott campaign is the attendance list at the Oslo award ceremony.
According to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee as of yesterday (December
7), there are 65 countries with embassies in Norway who thus annually
receive invitations to attend the ceremony awarding the Nobel Peace
Prize. Something like 20 of those countries have declined this year’s
invitation, and thus can be viewed as having either joined China in
solidarity or succumbed to Chinese pressure to boycott the ceremony.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced 44 countries were coming to
the ceremony, including major democracies in the Global South such as
Brazil, India, South Africa and Indonesia. On the other hand, 19
(including China) had replied to say they would not attend, while two
had stayed silent to that point. Sri Lanka, along with Algeria, is one
of the two that had not yet replied. [6]

Today, it appears Sri Lanka has now gotten around to replying, at
least according to one online report of a radio interview with Sri
Lanka’s ambassador to Norway, Rodney Perera, who indicates that Sri
Lanka has told the Nobel Peace Prize Committee that it also will not
be attending.[7] The Wall Street Journal also reports today (December

One diplomat from Sri Lanka initially told The Wall Street Journal
that its embassy in Oslo was sure to send someone “if nobody had a
cold,” but later said that no one would attend, saying: “We are a
small country and China is now our friend.”

China provided crucial economic aid, arms and diplomatic support to
Sri Lanka during the final stages of the war against the Tamil Tiger
rebel movement in 2009.[8]

The list of boycotting countries from Oslo’s embassy row (or, if they
are not boycotting, countries that risk being understood to be
boycotting unless they issue a statement saying they have some other
reason for not attending) now stands at: China, Sri Lanka,
Afghanistan, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco,
Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan,
Tunisia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam.

For reasons of pure power politics – massive Chinese investment,
geopolitical support (e.g. China’s wartime support mentioned by The
Wall Street Journal as well as China continuing to stand ready with
its veto in the UN Security Council should any measure be attempted to
create an accountability process for the war crimes and crimes against
humanity that occurred during the just-ended war in Sri Lanka), and
Sri Lanka’s own use of its ties with China as a way to tell the West
not to push Sri Lanka too hard – it can hardly come as a surprise that
Sri Lanka would, in the end, side with China. But, it is hard to
avoid the conclusion that the support ultimately is more deeply
grounded and goes to the very substance of China’s problem with
awarding the Peace Prize to a dissident. It is hardly a surprise that
Sri Lanka lines up behind China given that Sri Lanka has become a
country that, while formally an electoral democracy, is, in many
material respects, slipping quickly into de facto dictatorial and
nepotistic rule by President Rajapaksa.[9] More broadly, there is
much by way of a meeting of minds between the governments of China and
Sri Lanka when it comes to the way dissent and opposition, no matter
how peaceful, are viewed and handled – as entry after entry in the Sri
Lanka Campaign’s blog will attest and report after report from
reputable organizations will confirm.

Consider the following passages as reported today (December 8) by The
Globe and Mail newspaper:

[China’s Foreign Ministry] [s]pokeswoman Jiang reiterated that the
Nobel Committee’s awarding of the prize to “a criminal” like Mr. Liu
was an affront to China’s “legal sovereignty”.

“All policies in China are for the interests of the majority of the
Chinese people,” she said.

“We will not change because of some wind blowing the grass and because
of the interference of some clowns who are anti-China.” [10]

Anyone following Sri Lankan government rhetoric in recent times will
find echoes in the surreal hyperbole from China just quoted.
Discourses of dissidents as criminals (or, terrorists), of legality,
of sovereignty, of the will or support of ‘the people’, of foreign
interference, and so on, all these are part of the verbal arsenal of
the present regime in Colombo as well.

Beyond rhetorical kinship, there is also a kinship of ‘diplomatic’
style. Ian Buruma, in a trenchant column in early November in The
Guardian, analyses the various recent examples of what he calls
China’s “thuggish approach to foreign relations.” China’s muscle
diplomacy around the Nobel Peace Prize is just the most current
manifestation. He canvasses two possible reasons for the thuggery, as

So why is China being so severe? One possible explanation is that
China is a little drunk on its new great-power status. For the first
time in almost 200 years, China can really throw its weight around,
and it will do what it wants, regardless of what other countries may
think. A few decades ago, it was Japan that thought it was going to be
No1, and its businessmen, politicians, and bureaucrats were not shy
about letting the rest of the world know. Call China’s recent actions
revenge for a century of humiliation by stronger powers.

But this may not be the best explanation for China’s behaviour. In
fact, the reason may be just the opposite: a sense among China’s
rulers of weakness at home. At least since 1989, the legitimacy of the
Chinese Communist party’s monopoly on power has been fragile.
Communist ideology is a spent force. Using the People’s Liberation
Army to murder civilian protesters, not only in Beijing but all over
China in June 1989, further undermined the one-party system’s

The way to regain the support of the burgeoning Chinese middle class
was to promise a quick leap to greater prosperity through high-speed
economic growth. The ideological vacuum left by the death of Marxist
orthodoxy was filled with nationalism. And nationalism in China,
promoted through schools, mass media, and “patriotic” monuments and
museums, means one thing: only the firm rule of the CCP will prevent
foreigners, especially westerners and the Japanese, from humiliating
Chinese ever again.

This is why anyone, even a relatively unknown intellectual like Liu
Xiaobo, who challenges the legitimacy of Communist party rule by
demanding multi-party elections, must be crushed….. [11]

As with the earlier-quoted rhetoric about “criminals” and “legal
sovereignty”, the analogues between China’s conduct and that of Sri
Lanka are palpable. Hyper-nationalism and peddling of economic growth
(packaged as “development” for all) intersect with repression at home
and belligerent interaction with the world. Sri Lanka and China are
more and more becoming doppelgangers in their approaches to both
governance and diplomacy. Their approach to the awarding of the Nobel
Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is just the latest evidence that each regime
needs to seriously ask itself in what ways authoritarian rule within
their countries coupled with petulance, anger and juvenile acting-out
in the international realm does justice to the dignity and welfare of
the peoples that each government claims to represent.

[1] Jeremy Page, “Nobel Ceremony Turns Into Global Showdown”, December
8, 2010, The Wall Street Journal, at:

Tania Branigan, “Chinese artist Ai Weiwei prevented from leaving
country”, The Guardian, December 2, 2010, at

[2] Alan Cowell, “19 Countries to Skip Nobel Ceremony, While China
Offers Its Own Prize”, The New York Times, December 7, 2010, at

[3] Cowell, The New York Times, above note 2.

[4] Agencias, “Seis países boicotearán la ceremonia del Nobel de la
Paz”, El Pais, November 19, 2010, at

[5] Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard, “China claims broad support for
Nobel ceremony boycott”, December 7, 2010, The Globe and Mail, at:

[6] Cowell, The New York Times, above note 2.

[7] ColomboPage News Desk, “Sri Lanka to boycott Nobel Peace Prize
Awarding ceremony”. December 8, 2010, ColomboPage, at

[8] Page, The Wall Street Journal, above note 1.

[9] See e.g. James Yap and Craig Scott, “The Breakdown of the Rule of
Law in Sri Lanka: An Overview” (September 22, 2010). Available at

[10] Wee and Blanchard, The Globe and Mail, above note 5.

[11] Ian Buruma, “What is driving China’s thuggish approach to foreign
relations? China was deft in its diplomacy for decades, but its recent
heavy-handed behaviour is changing Asian opinions”, November 7, 2010,
The Guardian, at: