As an international affairs major I imagine that the insight I am about to share should have dawned on me earlier, but thanks to recent events it has just now become clear to me. Countries and their governments are a lot like people. They have egos, they're easily offended, they break laws. Given the latest WikiLeaks scandal it was interesting to see world leaders and sometimes countries described in the same way you might describe guests at a party. Some of these character quirks are endearing... Sarkozy likes things done a certain way... shocking. But other governments' behavior is less than charming.
A couple months ago I gave my students an extra credit assignment. They had to research who was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize and why. I explained to them the significance of this and that the winner, Liu Xiaobo, would not be able to attend the award ceremony and accept his prize. They were very surprised and all felt that this was indeed an injustice. I explained that one of the reasons I had them look up this information online was to demonstrate that they had the ability to do this and that the information existed. I told them their Chinese counterparts, had they even known to google Xiaobo's name, would have come up with nothing.
Yesterday I read the New York Times article describing the ceremony and China's reaction to the Nobel Committee's decision. The article described how China was seething with anger, just like a teenage girl scorned. Though unlike a high school mean girl, the results of China's actions are much more serious. The country went on a propaganda-spree and painted the award and its committee as devious tools of the West. The Chinese government went door to door pressuring its friends to err on their side and not go to the party... er ceremony. Careful not to offend the rising power too much, Obama mentioned his appreciation for the country's ability to lift millions out of poverty but then warned that they had a lot more work to do when it came to human rights.
Interestingly enough, I was planning to share this follow-up article with my classes (mainly also to demonstrate that news can be interesting and it is worth following) until I got to a paragraph towards the end. The article specifically called out Egypt. Egypt was named as one of the countries boycotting the ceremony at China's request. Reason being, that though the nation is considered to be a Western ally, just like China, the Egyptian government enjoys centralized power and crushes any dissent it manages to hear over the traffic.
This posed a problem for me because I wanted my students to think about the situation for themselves. I wanted them to feel like they had the space and perspective to form an opinion, and not be forced to defend their government along the way. If I do share the article with them, I will share an edited version.
Regardless, while at times amusing, it is concerning that world affairs is often shaped by bruised egos, vindictive ventures, and personal agendas. But just like people, countries have the ability to rise above school yard behavior. Ironically, those countries who in the past few months have demonstrated behavior unbecoming of a 12 year-old (cough, China), would do well to keep in mind the words of Liu Xiaobo: "Hatred is corrosive of a person’s wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation’s spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy. I hope therefore to be able to transcend my personal vicissitudes in understanding the development of the state and changes in society, to counter the hostility of the regime with the best of intentions, and defuse hate with love."