From one paranoid superpower to another

Gamal Abdel-Gawad , Monday 13 Dec 2010

This week's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony gave alarming signals as to how the world order would be under an ascendant China, writes Gamal Abdel-Gawad

The Nobel Peace Prize this year was awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, a prominent defender of democracy and human rights in China, although to the majority of his countrymen he is unknown. The Nobel choice is a true test for China as it stands at the pinnacle of the world order. Beijing imagined that its immense economic power would deter outsiders from interfering in its affairs.

China’s rise and the partial retreat of the West made many in China and other countries believe that democracy and human rights —values of Western origin —would also recede, and act accordingly.

The awards ceremony was unique this year because several important guests did not attend. Liu was absent because he is behind bars in China, but as important was the absence of a large number of countries at the event. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is habitually attended by representatives of all countries with diplomatic missions in Norway. This year, however, 16 countries stayed away in deference to Beijing or because they were pressured to be absent.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry sent messages to all diplomatic missions in Oslo warning of the repercussions of attending the award ceremony. Norway, however, was the focus of the bulk of China’s anger: Beijing announced it had suspended trade talks between the two countries. A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Nobel Prize Committee, describing its members as clowns participating in a conspiracy against China.

A rising trend in international relations is animosity towards China, which is second only to hostility towards the US. It seems that our world is condemned to being ruled by one paranoid superpower or another —ones that suffers from megalomania as well as a sense of victimisation. They believe in an international conspiracy against them, while others just hate them for no particular reason. This is the case with the established superpower, the US, and the rising superpower, China.

Among those who did attend the ceremony was Serbia, which was put in a difficult position. China supported Serbia during its confrontation with the West. In fact, the US shelling of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 was a milestone in the Balkan war. In support of Beijing, Belgrade announced that it would boycott the ceremony, but Serbia —which is seeking to join the EU —could not ignore criticism from its new European allies and decided to attend the event. Serbia was caught between the past and the future, and which did it choose?

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