It was just before Christmas last year and Ding Xiaowen (丁孝文) was not happy.
The US ambassador had just written China’s foreign minister expressing concern for Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), the Beijing intellectual imprisoned a year earlier for helping drafting a pro-democracy manifesto. Now Ding, a deputy in the Chinese foreign ministry’s North American and Oceanian Affairs section, was reading the riot act to a US attache.
Ding said he would try to avoid “becoming emotional,” according to a readout on the meeting that was among thousands of leaked US Department of State cables released this month. Then he said that a “strongly dissatisfied” China firmly opposed the views of US Ambassador Jon Huntsman and that Washington must “cease using human rights as an excuse to ‘meddle’ in China’s internal affairs.”
If anything is clear, it is that China no longer resists becoming emotional.
In the two months since the Nobel committee honored Liu, China has waged an extraordinary and unprecedented campaign, domestically and internationally, to discredit the award and to dissuade other governments from endorsing it.
It sent diplomats to capitals worldwide, sometimes to two and three offices, to warn that attendance at the awards ceremony in Oslo would be a black mark on relations with China. It staged a briefing for its neighbors, the 10 members of ASEAN, to make clear its unhappiness with the award. It has punished Norway, the site of the ceremony, by suspending trade negotiations.
In Hainan Province last month, Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo (戴秉國) told US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that his government regarded the Nobel award as a US conspiracy to embarrass Beijing.
Perhaps most strikingly, China’s media and spokespeople have trained a stream of vitriol on the award and its sponsors. The prize is “an anti-China farce” and its sponsors are “clowns,” a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Jiang Yu (姜瑜), said this week at a briefing. Honoring Liu is “a crazy act,” “a political tool” and “a trick that a few radical people use to entertain themselves,” the Chinese Communist Party tabloid Global Times reported on Wednesday.
Why China’s leaders have made Liu’s award a foreign policy red line is far from clear. Political analysts and scholars variously suggest that Liu’s manifesto, Charter 08, was too radical and represented a threat, that China’s newfound global prominence has given it an oversize impression of its influence and that party leaders are toeing a hard nationalist position.
“In a lengthy and disjointed digression,” the cable said about Ding’s dressing down of the US attache, Ding said that regardless of rights to speak and assemble freely, the most fundamental human rights were to food and shelter. And “in this area it was ‘a basic fact’ that the PRC had made huge progress.”