Arresting a trawler captain could do damage to relations with Japan, imposing trade sanctions over the value of the yuan could do damage to relations with the U.S., awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed human rights campaigner could do damage to relations with Norway. Beijing has a boilerplate response to show its displeasure at events elsewhere that displease it.

At least the Japanese and American governments were directly involved. But the Norwegian government’s connection to the Nobel Peace Prize is indirect; the Norwegian parliament appoints the selection committee, in accordance with the wishes of Alfred Nobel’s will, though it is independent and sitting members of parliament cannot serve on it.

That distinction is unlikely to be noticed much in China where the committee’s honoring of “a criminal” will be seen, where it is seen at all, as another attempt by the West to impose its peculiar view of human rights on China, and provide more succor to those of a nationalist turn of mind. Beijing’s ire at the award is scarcely a surprise given that it had been warning off the committee for weeks. Browbeating Norway after the event will do Beijing little good in the eyes of the rest of the world. It will just reinforce the notion that the state, government, Party and civil society in China are indistinguishable, whereas that they are not is the basis of universal human rights.

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