China's dissidents are voicing unease about President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, saying that the award could have been effective in promoting human rights in their country.
Some in China's democracy movement are outraged at what they see as a weak stance on rights by Obama, who the same week as Friday's announcement avoided a meeting with Tibet's exiled Dalai Lama that would have upset Beijing.
Chinese activists had been tipped as Nobel contenders on this year of anniversaries, when China marked 60 years of communist rule, 50 years since the Dalai Lama's flight and 20 years since the crushing of the Tiananmen Square democracy uprising.
Potential laureates included Hu Jia, locked up since December 2007 after exposing government abuses and the plight of China's AIDS sufferers, and Wei Jingsheng, a onetime electrician who spent 18 years in prison after brazenly challenging former leader Deng Xiaoping to bring democracy.
Huang Ciping, an engineer turned activist who is executive director of Wei's Washington-based foundation, said that China "has come to such a turning point that the prize might have helped."
"The Nobel Peace Prize committee has the full right to decide to give coal to those who suffer and struggle or to present flowers to the powerful," she said.
But she said of the decision: "It is both a pity for the Chinese people and a danger to world peace."
Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled leader of China's Uighur minority, congratulated Obama but called on him to use the added prestige to put pressure on "dictatorships like China."
"I am very happy that he got it. Now he has to do something with the award. It raises expectations on him to stand up for oppressed nations," she told AFP.
Some 200 people died in July in clashes between Uighurs and China's majority Han in the country's worst ethnic bloodletting in decades.
Harry Wu, who spent nearly two decades toiling as a political prisoner and now tries to publicize the "laogai" prison camp system, said the Norwegian Nobel committee's decision was premature.
"Maybe at this moment, Obama's actions on peace and human rights do not seem too bad, but so far I do not think it is enough to prove that he is qualified as the Peace Prize winner," Wu said.
Obama nearly said as much in his humble statement on the award, in which he said: "To be honest, I do not feel I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who have been honored by this prize."
But some exiled Chinese said the prize was not only premature but undeserved, pointing to the Obama administration's statements that human rights concerns will not hold back a growing relationship with China.
James B. Chen, a cancer researcher at the University of Arkansas, feared that the award could be seen as affirmation of focusing on economic ties with China or of Obama's decision to avoid the Dalai Lama.
"For nearly all of my friends, their first reaction was that they were very, very disappointed," Chen said. "They thought this is a major setback for human rights."
The White House has denied it snubbed the Dalai Lama,
Click to view image: '6552ab9c0d19-00a.jpeg' saying Obama will meet him after the president visits China next month.
The Dalai Lama is paying his first visit to Washington since 1991 that does not include a meeting with the president. But he said he had no hard feelings and sent a congratulatory letter to Obama.
The Tibetan monk, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 despite strong Chinese protests, told Obama that "the founding fathers of the United States have made this country the greatest democracy and a champion of freedom and liberty.
"It is, therefore, important for today's American leaders to adopt principled leadership based on these high ideals," he said.
"Such an approach will not only enhance the reputation of the United States, but also contribute tremendously to reducing tension in the world."
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