From November 12th-14th, former Tiananmen Square student protester Wuer Kaixi attended the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Hiroshima, Japan. No, Wuer is not a Nobel laureate. He went along on behalf of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Wuer’s former mentor, Liu is currently serving an eleven-year prison sentence for his involvement with Charter 08, the 2008 manifesto demanding judicial, political, economic, and human rights reforms in China. It is unclear whether China will allow any of Liu’s family to attend the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Norway on December 10th in Liu’s stead, potentially making this the first year since 1936 that the award will not be given. Below, Wuer speaks about the Chinese government’s treatment of Liu’s award and the mode of appeasement that has dictated the international community’s relationship with China since Tiananmen.
—Rebecca Bates for Guernica
Guernica: During the Tiananmen Square protests you became the voice of thousands of students demanding reform. Was attending the summit for the Nobel Peace Laureates on behalf of Liu Xiaobo another moment of protest against the Chinese government?
Wuer Kaixi: Basically, what happened in Tiananmen Square twenty-one years ago pretty much dictated the rest of my life. I would say, from that moment on, my identity was pretty much set, that I would be a dissident for China and a voice box for the freedom and democracy of China. It’s a great honor for me to have a mentor like Liu Xiaobo and to have had a fellow comrade in this endeavor. The summit is just one of the many occasions in which I carry out this mission. However, of course being able to stand side-by-side with people like the Dalai Lama—unfortunately Mr. Gorbachev didn’t make it this time, otherwise it would be very significant to meet with him twenty-one years after Tiananmen (he was in Tiananmen Square during the movement)—and then of course Lech Walesa, who has always been a very significant icon for the Chinese people, particularly the dissident force because he is a great inspiration, but being able to stand along with all of these people is definitely the most honorable moment in my life. I feel most blessed.
Guernica: Now it seems that China is preventing any of Liu’s relatives from accepting the award on his behalf. How do you think the international community should best respond to China’s bullying in this situation so that this does not become a repeat of the 1936 incident when Adolf Hitler prevented the German winner from accepting the prize?
Wuer Kaixi: Well, history is repeated from time to time. Often the exact same mistakes. In the nineteen thirties, Europe looked for excuses to accept, to forgive Hitler. Later on we invented a word just to describe that. It’s called “appeasement.” Appeasement led to war, led to total catastrophe. The mistake that the European people made, looking for excuses to accommodate Hitler, has cost a great price for the world to pay. During the Tiananmen student movement we had the world’s attention and the world’s support, and then a little while after the massacre. But pretty soon, the world decided to engage with China economically. The business interest took the driver’s seat, and from that time on, the Western world leaders have been looking for excuses to accommodate China. And how China treated its own people years later is the same tactic they’re using with the rest of the world. So you mentioned the similarity between the 1936 Nobel Peace Prize and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, and I’m comparing the greater picture of similarity here. I just want to warn the world again and again that with all these similarities, shouldn’t we be concerned that the results could be similar?
I would say, from [Tiananmen] on, my identity was pretty much set, that I would be a dissident for China and a voice box for the freedom and democracy of China.
Guernica: It’s interesting that you bring up “appeasement” because in your article on Guernica’s blog on November 7th, you said that “appeasement has been the name of the game” for the last twenty-one years with China. What steps need to be taken by the international community to change that?
Wuer Kaixi: Well, the Chinese government has just made a clear threat. They instructed many countries not to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway. Whenever anybody points their fingers at China’s human rights records and bad conduct, whenever there’s a criticism of China, China will wave the flag to say, “Do not interfere with our internal affairs.” They repeat that like a mantra. Now they are telling other countries’ foreign service forces not to attend a third country’s very honorable, widely accepted, celebrated event. That is clearly an interference with internal affairs. The world should let China know that this behavior is not acceptable. More than that, pointing out China’s human rights violations is not an interference with internal affairs, and pushing China to follow the code of conduct that is widely accepted by the rest of the world is not interfering with internal affairs. The world should stand firm on this position. Whenever China crosses the line, it needs to be pushed back. When China treated its own people with brutality, with irrationality, the world adopted an appeasement policy and turned a blind eye. And now when China has, say, a territorial dispute with Japan, how does China react? Irrationally. Violently. Brutally. With exactly the same kind of attitude with which they treat their own people. Japan, being the first country to adopt this appeasement policy, is ironically the first country to suffer the consequences of this policy twenty years later. Japan was the first country to break the trade embargo with China after Tiananmen.
Guernica: In your interview with us last year, you said, “I don’t want a revolution, I have always wanted a peaceful evolution in China.” What has to happen for the Chinese government to “realize choosing democracy over gunshots…is a better choice”?
Wuer Kaixi: The logic of a mass movement, a dissident movement, has always been such that you apply pressure to your opponent. And then, knowing that they may not like it, you keep applying pressure, until one day they realize choosing compromise is more beneficial for them over choosing guns. Though, you risk the chance of their stupidity, you risk the chance of their miscalculation. And you also risk this when you are applying the pressure alone, and the rest of the world is sending the wrong message, saying, “Go ahead, shoot them up.” The world not sending delegations to Norway, not sending ambassadors to the ceremony is sending exactly that kind of a message to the Chinese government.
Wuer Kaixi was a major student organizer in the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. He is most known for being filmed censuring Chinese Premier Li Peng in his hospital gown, having been hospitalized from the effects of a hunger strike he coordinated. On November 12th, he represented Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Hiroshima, Japan.