The Nobel Committee in Oslo has countered that while some countries may have been influenced by Beijing, but others may well have different reasons for staying away. China has described Liu Xiobo as "subversive and criminal," denouncing the award as an "obscenity". The Norwegian Nobel Committee also confirmed that the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has declined to attend.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Daniel Drezner, professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachussets
LAM: Professor Drezner, has China scored a diplomatic coup here in persuading 18 countries to stay away?
PROFESSOR DREZNER: Well, we are not sure that they convinced all 18 countries to stay away. Eighteen countries are staying away, but there have been in the past prior Nobel Peace Prize winners, countries have stayed away, ten countries have stayed away when the Finnish prime minister, for example, won the Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago. But yes, that said, 18 is more than normal and so I think this is certainly evident of China's growing power. That said, I am not sure how much power it really is demonstrating. You could argue in some ways it probably has hurt it's' image just as much as it has helped it.
LAM: Well, some of those that are staying away I have noticed are Kazakhstan, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan. To what extent is that driven by China's influence and economic clout?
PROFESSOR DREZNER: I think there is no question that China's economic clout plays a role in some countries. I think the Filipino ambassador told Reuters exclusively that they did not want alienate China's power. That said, in some cases there are countries that have human rights problems of their own, that are somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarding a human rights winner period. For example, Saudi Arabia in some ways does not have much to fear from China, but they are not going either. I don't think that's because China pressured them not to attend. I suspect it's because Saudi Arabia is not a big fan of human rights period.
LAM: Indeed, I notice that India and Indonesia are both attending. Now both countries are leaders in the non-aligned movement, so China's influence is not all pervasive?
PROFESSOR DREZNER: No, in fact it is actually split the brick Coalition, Brazil, Russia, India and China. Russia is following China's lead in not attending, but both India and Brazil are attending. So in fact most of the democracies in the non-aligned movement are attending, but there are some surprises. For example, Colombia, which is a very close US ally is not attending and it's not apparently clear at first glance why that is.
LAM: And Daniel Drezner, do you think the story might have moved beyond Liu Xiaobo, that a line has now been drawn in the sand about attitudes to democracy and human rights?
PROFESSOR DREZNER: I think that line was drawn a long time ago by China, beginning with the protests in Tibet, for example, in the run up to the Beijing Olympics. So in that sense, this is just a continuation of Beijing's relatively aggressive policy of not tolerating external criticisms of human rights internally.
LAM: Do you think it is worrying or should be worrying that the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, has chosen not to go?
PROFESSOR DREZNER: I think it is a bad signal. It suggests that for some reason the most universal organisation in the world chief delegate for human rights thinks this is not an important occasion. I mean having an excuse of a prior commitment doesn't seem terribly plausible to me. So yes, I think it is a disastrous signal.
LAM: Why do you think Navi Pillay has chosen to stay away?
PROFESSOR DREZNER: I assume because the UN Human Rights Council has an interest in making sure that they have relatively placid relations with China going forward. China is one of the chief pay masters for the United Nations and you always want to please your creditors.
LAM: So you think also it could be that she thinks perhaps a small price to pay in order to perhaps in some ways influence China to improve its human rights?
PROFESSOR DREZNER: It is entirely possible she's made that calculation, but as I said previously, I don't think that calculation makes any sense. I seriously doubt the United Nations is going to be able to place any kind of constructive relationship with China on human rights. But one can hope that she is actually in fact correct.