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May 29, 2017

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China polarizing Peace Prize debate

A European visitor who arrived in Shanghai on Friday on his sixth visit to China turned on the TV to watch BBC News when, suddenly, the screen went blank.

"I switched to other channels," he told his luncheon companion the next day, "and there was no problem. Then I went back to BBC and it was back." He then realized that the news had been censored to keep him and other viewers from seeing any news from Oslo of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies.

"I think this is anachronistic," he said. "When you want to develop a service economy, you need to get information."

China has gone to great lengths to counter the Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award this year's peace prize to the dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence. It has not only kept Mr. Liu in prison, it has also put his wife under house arrest without any charges or legal procedures and has put scores of their friends on a black list to prevent them from leaving the country to travel to Norway.

The Chinese government has called the award an "obscenity" and the product of a "Cold War mentality." Actually, what China has done is to recreate a semblance of the Cold War, calling on all countries to choose sides — China or the West — in the dispute over the Nobel Peace Prize.

The division of the world into two blocs was a major characteristic of the Cold War, which pitted the Soviet Union against the United States. Virtually all countries had to join either the Soviet bloc or the Western bloc led by the United States.

By depicting the issue as a struggle over values — alleging that the West is trying to foist its values on China and other countries — Beijing is turning this into another ideological battle. No doubt, such a charge finds resonance in some countries. Certainly, most of the countries that took part in China's boycott are not democracies.

Of course, not every country has an embassy in Norway and so sympathy for China is likely to go beyond the countries that took part in the boycott. However, reviving the Cold War is a very dangerous exercise. China should think twice before heading down that road.

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