Image credit: James Griffiths.
Forbes has done the impossible, publishing an editorial on China that’s stupider than whatever Gordon G Chang wrote this week. ‘How China’s President is Earning a Nobel Peace Prize‘ is spectacularly wrongheaded, both in its initial premise (that Xi Jinping is a committed reformer) and conclusion (that some minor reforms would earn Xi a Nobel peace prize).
The author, Ralph Benko, was a junior official in the Reagan Whitehouse and, in his own words, “a member of the original Supply Side movement”. His grasp of Chinese politics seems to be as shaky as that movements understanding of economics.
The author posits that the potential closure or reform of China’s controversial reeducation through labour system is “an historic development, one under-reported in the mainstream Western media”. This could be because it hasn’t happened yet. Most China watchers and reporters have learned from experience to be cynical when leaders, particularly brand new leaders, spout reformist platitudes.
President Xi’s statement that “We must establish mechanisms to restrain and supervise power,” Vice President of the Supreme People’s Court’s Jiang’s declaration that “Only with constraints on public power can the rights and freedoms of citizens be securely realized,” could have been taken directly from Locke and Jefferson.
The author goes on to claim there has been a “Tea Party-like popular groundswell against China’s Gulags”, which is news to us (we won’t go into the astroturfed nature of the Tea Party movement). Tea Partiers held numerous local and national protests across the US, they received blanket, fawning media coverage, and dramatically changed American politics on both sides of the aisle. The “popular groundswell against China’s Gulags” involved a few negative editorials, and some online complaining.
Nevertheless, the labour camps are awful, and the Chinese legal system is in dire need of reform. Could Xi be the leader who finally delivers on his promises? Probably not. Regardless of Benko’s dewey eyed optimism, Xi is still the leader who, shortly upon taking office, oversaw or tacitly approved a concerted crackdown on a newspaper for the ‘crime’ of calling upon the country to follow its own constitution. The Xi regime has continued its predecessors’ policies in Tibet, despite over 100 protesters from that region setting themselves on fire. In an internal speech leaked in January, Xi harked back to “the kind of authority and legitimacy Mao Zedong enjoyed”, and reemphasised the importance of Leninism and the dangers of reform.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee is called upon to play close attention. If justified by continued humanitarian deeds an award to Xi could be transformational both for China and the world. China, properly, cares deeply about its international prestige. Receiving the Nobel Peace Prize would be among the most powerful rewards for the advocates of deep reform.
Giving the award to Xi would be pointless, as the Chinese state and its media have railed against the award too much to easily backtrack and pretend that they think it’s important. Nor would such a speculative award have the “transformational” effect Benko claims. The Nobel Peace Prize committee, in awarding Barack Obama the 2009 prize, claimed to have done so with an eye to the future, hoping that the award would encourage Obama in his efforts to seek peace (or something). Obama, for his part, has proved just as militaristic and hawkish as his predecessor, dramatically expanding an extrajudicial assassination program that even his administration isn’t sure is legal, and bombing several countries the US isn’t at war with.
Giving the award to Xi Jinping would be even more embarrassing than giving it to Obama (though still not on a par with giving it to actual war criminal Henry Kissinger).