Accessibility links

Ban Ki-Moon: Between A Rock And A Hard Place

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon walks a fine line.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon walks a fine line.

Shortly after the Nobel Committee announcement that jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released through his spokesperson a cautious statement that could be interpreted as , well, a congratulatory message to both, Mr. Liu and to the Chinese authorities who have imprisoned him.

Ban congratulated China for achieving "remarkable economic advances, lifted millions out of poverty, broadened political participation and steadily joined the international mainstream in its adherence to recognized human rights instruments and practices."

It probably wasn't easy for the secretary-general. Immediately after the prize announcement, Beijing vehemently condemned it and scolded the Nobel Committee for awarding a "criminal." News of the announcement was blacked out on TV and filtered out on the Internet accessible in China.

For a UN secretary-general not to welcome the Nobel Committee award would be unthinkable. After all, one of the United Nations' main pillars is the defense of human rights and human dignity.

Critics have occasionally taken Ban to task for his "ambivalence" toward human rights issues. At the same time, China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is playing an increasing global role -- economically, politically, and culturally.

Beijing was a firm supporter of Ban when he was nominated for the top UN post in 2006. Ban will certainly need China's backing should he consider a run for a second term in 2011, as seems likely. In fact, without Chinese support he cannot be reelected. So, the secretary-general may now find himself between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, Ban must demonstrate his determination and commitment toward human rights issues, and in fact he has been consistent in his approach. On the other hand, he has to walk a fine line between the need to maintain a profile as a human rights defender and at the same time not to incur the wrath of Beijing's communist authorities, for whom human rights are not always the primary concern.

It should be noted that throughout his distinguished diplomatic career, Ban has been known for his talent at navigating perilous waters. The Korean press corps calls him "the slippery eel" for his ability to dodge questions. At the same time, his demeanor has been described as "Confucian." While this could be used to describe his nonconfrontational approach, Confucianism's central idea is the cultivation of virtue and humanity.

-- Nikola Krastev

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at