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The Realist Prism: Parsing China's Influence Through Empty Nobel Seats

Friday, Dec. 10, 2010

On the stage in Oslo City Hall today, there will be an empty chair for the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo. The United States government, which will be represented at the ceremony by its ambassador to Norway, Barry White, criticized China's refusal to release the imprisoned Liu in order to attend the ceremony. The House of Representatives also passed a resolution calling for the dissident to be freed, while the Obama administration made its position clear in no uncertain terms:

We think the Nobel committee has made a strong statement, and we will associate ourselves with that statement and this event. It sends a strong statement about what all countries should strive to achieve, which is full human rights for all their citizens, the ability to express their views, participate in the political process, and enjoy freedom of expression, freedom of association and the opportunity to play a role in the future of any country . . .

But in addition to the empty chair on the stage, there will also be some empty chairs in the audience, in the section reserved for the diplomatic corps, as other governments heeded Beijing's call for a boycott of the prize ceremony. This has made for an interesting test of China's rising international clout, as its diplomats around the world have been delivering demarches describing Liu as a "criminal" and the Nobel Peace Prize committee's decision as unwonted interference in China's domestic affairs.

How successful was Beijing's campaign, and what lessons might we draw from it? ...

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