The European Parliament's awarding of its annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Chinese dissident Hu Jia is a positive step in more ways than one.
The award honors "particular achievement in . . . defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly the right to free expression." Mr. Hu is serving a 3½-year prison sentence for what Beijing calls "incitement to subvert state power." In September last year he and fellow activist Teng Biao published an open letter describing Olympics-related abuses, such as corruption and forced relocations to make way for new venues. Mr. Hu testified to the European Parliament via telephone in November, prompting his arrest. He is also well known as an advocate for people suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Beijing had campaigned hard against the award, with Ambassador Song Sze warning in a letter that giving Mr. Hu the prize "would inevitably . . . bring serious damage to China-EU relations." That threat came ahead of the weekend's biennial EU-Asia summit, at which leaders planned to discuss cooperation with China in the face of the global financial crisis.
Beijing issued a blustery denouncement when the prize was announced Thursday. But the award doesn't appear to have negatively affected the summit. Similarly, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's meeting with the Dalai Lama last year seems to have done no lasting damage to Sino-Canadian economic ties. This all suggests that since China needs economic cooperation with other countries as much as they need China, foreign leaders have more room than some thought to discuss human rights.
Mr. Hu is a model of courage in the face of Beijing's oppression. Meanwhile, European parliamentarians have helped to show it's possible to push Beijing on freedom in the context of a broader, cooperative, relationship.