A Dissident in China

TOKYO – 2009 was a good year for China. The Chinese economy still roared ahead in the midst of a worldwide recession. American President Barack Obama visited China, more in the spirit of a supplicant to an imperial court than the leader of the world’s greatest superpower. Even the Copenhagen summit on climate change ended just the way China wanted: failure in its attempt to commit China, or any other industrial nation, to making significant cuts in carbon emissions, with the United States getting the blame.

The Chinese government, under the Communist Party, has every reason to feel confident. So why did a gentle former literature professor named Liu Xiaobo have to be sentenced to 11 years in prison, just because he publicly advocated freedom of expression and an end to one-party rule?

Liu was co-author in 2008 of a petition, Charter 08, signed by thousands of Chinese, calling for basic rights to be respected. Liu is not a violent rebel. His opinions, in articles published on the Internet, are entirely peaceful. Yet he was jailed for “inciting subversion of state power.”

The notion that Liu might be capable of subverting the immense power of the Communist Party of China is patently absurd. And yet the authorities clearly believe that they had to make an example of him, to prevent others from expressing similar views.