October 09, 2009 23:06
The surprise announcement that President Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize brought muted and mixed reaction in Asia.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee gave the prize Friday to Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." The award comes nine months after Obama took office.
The president, the son of an African immigrant and an American mother is extremely popular overseas, unlike his predecessor President George W. Bush. He is particularly well-liked in Indonesia, where Obama spent part of his childhood, living in Jakarta with his mother and stepfather.
Wimar Witoelar is a political commentator and former presidential spokesman in Jakarta. He calls the announcement fantastic news. "The Nobel Prize is not defined in terms of cookbook recipes, not like you have to disarm 5,000 people and you win the Peace Prize," Witoelar said. "But his inspiration, his leadership, I think he has done already, just by getting elected, he has taken America away from the path of mass destruction. I mean Bush was committing mass destruction. And now he has taken the American people on the road to peace. Now how is that for achievement! And then he has confirmed to people in Indonesia who are for moderation, pluralism, that we can believe in America and the more people believe in a peaceful America, the more peace there will be in this world."
Many people in Asia had thought the prize might go to Chinese dissidents, to mark the 20th anniversary of the student democracy protests that the Beijing government brutally crushed in 1989.
Wang Dan was one of those protesters. He spent years in and out of jail in China after 1989 and was sent to exile in the United States in 1998. He is now a visiting assistant professor of history at Chengchi University on Taiwan. "Of course, I congratulate President Obama. But I still feel sorry for Chinese dissidents because they didn't win the prize," Wang said.
Wang also says he thinks giving the prize to the dissidents might have done more for world peace. "This is a crucial time for the whole world, and the Chinese," Wang noted. "China, as a rising power, really needs democracy. So the Peace Prize can be a great encouragement for democracy of China. And the democratization of China will be the greatest contribution for world peace."
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