Argument

Censorship Without Borders

China's campaign of intimidation in the run-up to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is just the tip of the iceberg. The regime's crackdown on freedom of speech is spreading to other countries as well.

With the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarding the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on Dec. 10, the Chinese government finds itself obsessed with awards. And there is one field in which China certainly has proved itself worthy of recognition: It has demonstrated world leadership in the development of innovative methods of internal censorship. China's efforts to muzzle any coverage of the awarding of the Peace Prize to Liu has also brought to the forefront the regime's determination to extend its censorship methods beyond its borders.

China's campaign began with a pre-emptive effort to bully the Nobel committee into rejecting Liu and other Chinese dissidents. Once that effort failed, the authorities denounced both Liu and the Nobel committee with vitriolic language -- Liu was called a "criminal" and the award decision an "obscenity" -- that went well beyond the vocabulary employed by the Soviets when dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were similarly honored.

At the heart of Beijing's strategy is an effort to manage the message that its own citizens, and people around the world, hear about the decision to award the Nobel Prize to Liu. China is setting a 21st-century standard for media manipulation that many outsiders have failed to adequately appreciate. The Chinese Communist Party has leveraged China's growing economic wealth, using advanced censorship techniques that use market forces to reinforce its political control.

Economic coercion is the lifeblood of China's transnational censorship. In the case of the Nobel award, Beijing warned that countries must "bear the consequences" if they attended the ceremony honoring Liu. The Chinese government also threatens to boycott or withdraw government funding from cultural events to pressure them to toe its political line.

For example, the Chinese government threatened to boycott the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair, to which it had contributed $15 million, unless two Chinese writers were excluded from the event. The German event organizers initially revoked their invitation to the writers in response to Chinese pressure. However, the writers were eventually allowed to participate after the intervention of the German branch of PEN, an organization that protects freedom of expression.

China's economic coercion is designed to produce an insidious form of self-censorship. Thus, the Hong Kong edition of Esquire magazine apparently pulled a feature story on the Tiananmen Square massacre in 2009; a prominent legal journal in Hong Kong made a last-minute decision not to publish an article on Tibetan self-determination in 2008; and a blackout on independent coverage of the Falun Gong is believed to be practiced among certain Hong Kong and Taiwanese outlets whose owners have ties to Beijing.

At the same time, China has fine-tuned the traditional, punitive methods of control at its disposal. China's media landscape is actively policed by government officials who possess the most sophisticated technology available on the world market. Ironically, this is one of the benefits that have accrued to the government due to its decision to open the country to international trade.

Domestically, China's state-controlled television stations have subjected Liu to an Orwellian campaign of demonization. Simultaneously, Beijing's sophisticated Internet censorship apparatus has kicked into overdrive to sanitize discussion of the Nobel award and stop Chinese from accessing his writings.

For a time after the award's announcement, state media squelched any mention of the Nobel Prize. Soon thereafter, state-controlled media was used as an instrument to discredit the Nobel committee and the award recipient, often by stoking nationalist fears of Western domination. Even though some tech-savvy Chinese were able to circumvent censorship, an employee of the company that runs the popular Chinese instant-messaging system QQ told the Associated Press that "only 10 percent of people in China have heard of [Liu]."

This week, Chinese censors reportedly began blocking the websites of news organizations, including the BBC and CNN. On Dec. 5, the authorities disrupted a Japanese language broadcast from NHK, Japan's national broadcaster, which was reporting on Liu. China's efforts to censor these foreign broadcasts, which are usually available only in high-end hotels and inaccessible to ordinary Chinese, highlight its determination to cut off any information related to the Nobel award.

China's latest censorship campaign is hardly an isolated case -- indeed, it's only Beijing's latest attempt to extend censorship beyond its borders. This strategy is designed to prevent the outside world from honoring, or even listening to, critics of regime policies and to squelch discussion of sensitive issues like China's suppression of minority groups.

In 2009, China pressured organizers of arts festivals in Taiwan and Melbourne, Australia, to shelve a documentary about Rebiya Kadeer, an exiled Uighur activist. Its efforts in those two instances failed -- but, in other cases, they have met with greater success. South Korea denied entry to a Uighur activist to a conference on democracy in Seoul that same year. This January, the Palm Springs Internet Film Festival also came under pressure when Beijing withdrew two films in protest of the festival's screening of a film on Tibet.

If there are differences between the regime's response to Liu and previous incidents, it can be found in its intensity, relentlessness, and seeming indifference to world opinion. But the goal is similar -- to identify intellectual "no-go areas" that governments, the arts community, and private institutions feel compelled to avoid.

While the Chinese government's gambit to impose censorship beyond its borders has met with mixed success in the run-up to the Dec. 10 ceremony, the real test lies beyond the awarding of the Peace Prize to Liu. The Chinese leadership is calculating that its intimidation today will lead to a more compliant attitude among foreign governments and news organizations in the future.

The response from the United States suggests that it is not likely back down in the face of China's bullying tactics. However, other democracies, such as Serbia, have been less resolute. In the future, given China's rising wealth and power, they will no doubt be tempted to anticipate China's preferences and quietly accommodate them. Those committed to freedom of speech must speak up loudly and regularly to remind these countries that such a course of action would be totally at odds with the values Liu Xiaobo seeks to defend from his prison cell.

ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

A Palestinian State Means War

Why Abbas shouldn't go unilateral.

With the U.S.-led peace process looking increasingly moribund, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has begun enlisting foreign leaders in a dangerous effort to recognize a Palestinian state without Israel's agreement. Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, began this effort earlier this year to strengthen the Palestinian negotiating position, and it is bearing more fruit than even he could have expected. Abbas, however, should be careful what he wishes for. A declaration of statehood without Israeli approval could start a war in which the Palestinians themselves would pay the highest price.

Abbas has been laying the diplomatic groundwork for a unilateral declaration of statehood for months, visiting foreign capitals and lobbying governments to extend recognition. But his efforts have gained momentum this month as a U.S. proposal for an Israeli settlement freeze has fallen apart.

On Dec. 5, Abbas visited Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. Afterward, the Palestinian envoy to Turkey announced that Erdogan would recognize a Palestinian state (within the 1967 borders) at an unspecified time. Erdogan also reportedly promised to go to bat for the initiative with other heads of state. The territory in question includes both the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-led West Bank, with the presumption (no doubt invoking the ire of Hamas) that the West Bank leadership would be in charge.

In recent days, several other countries have made similar declarations. In response to a request from Abbas, outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva declared last week that his country recognized the state of Palestine based on the 1967 borders. On Dec. 6, Uruguay announced that it would do the same, and Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner also wrote to Abbas that her country recognizes a "free and independent" Palestine. On Dec. 8, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused a U.S. request to extend the moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements and Abbas withdrew from peace talks, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit reportedly insisted that discussions should transition to an "end game for a Palestinian settlement."

Almost 100 countries already recognize an independent Palestine, and it is unclear how many others Abbas has asked to sign on to his plan of a unilateral declaration. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has approached U.N. and European officials, demanding that they force Israel to stop imposing "facts on the ground" in the West Bank. Meanwhile, Abbas advisor Nimer Hammad openly states that the Palestinians are considering a plan whereby the United Nations would approve of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Although U.S. officials oppose a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, Barack Obama's administration has not denounced these efforts.

Although a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood is a seemingly attractive alternative to negotiations and is gaining credence among a growing group of countries, it is an almost surefire recipe for war. If the Palestinian government unilaterally claims land where an estimated 400,000 Israeli settlers currently reside in the West Bank, don't expect them simply to pull up and move, especially if they were not consulted on the matter. Expect them to fight.

From there, a border dispute with Israel becomes inevitable. And in the Middle East, border disputes are not settled through binding arbitration. Another military conflict is sure to follow. We can expect the Iran-sponsored proxies Hezbollah and Hamas to launch new rounds of rocket attacks, and perhaps even a military assault from the Palestinian territories.

The United States and European Union are clearly worried about this possibility. They have already trained some 3,000 Palestinian soldiers who have successfully maintained calm in the West Bank in recent months. That has allowed Israel to rapidly redeploy its forces out of the West Bank, where Israeli troop levels are now at their lowest levels since after the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987. Ironically, this means the new Palestinian security forces can more easily deploy to various corners of the West Bank to defend Abbas's territorial claims.

Even if it did not result in an open war with Israel, a unilateral declaration of statehood would probably not do the Palestinians any favors. The move could unify the warring Hamas and Fatah factions -- as the second intifada against Israel did briefly when the peace process unraveled in 2000 -- but it could also divide them further. In the wake of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, the two factions will almost certainly square off over who constitutes the sovereign government.

Yet with more and more countries recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, what began as a seemingly empty threat to squeeze concessions from Israel has gained traction and appears increasingly likely to become a reality. A two-state solution may be around the corner, but that doesn't mean peace will follow.

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images