Nobel Peace Prize vs. Confucius Peace Prize: What a Lark!

Nobel Peace Prize Concert 2008, The ScriptImage via WikipediaNobel Peace Prize Concert 2008
Who would have ever believed that the Nobel Peace Prize - one of the West's most respected institutions, the very embodiment of its humanitarian values - would find itself in competition with a cheap Chinese copy?

I suppose we shouldn't be so surprised: the Chinese are famously good at copying everything, from plastic cutlery to e-readers. So why not an international peace prize?

We all know how the Chinese government went beserk when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to dissident Liu Xiaobo serving an eleven-year prison sentence for having drafted Charter 08 - a courageous paper calling for more freedom and democracy and signed by 300 Chinese intellectuals and scientists -. They prevented him or anyone else, whether family or friend, from receiving the prize in Norway. The last time something like this happened - that the prize could not be collected -  was in 1936, over 70 years ago. And they launched a world-wide campaign to discourage countries from sending a representative to the ceremony, a campaign which met with a surprising success. The Nobel committee has informed that 44 embassies in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, would come but fully 19 had declined.

The list of countries who declined the Nobel invitation is an eye-opener. American diplomats take note of the list and send cables to Foggy Bottom (i.e. the State Department)!  In addition to China, you have the usual culprits like Vietnam and Cuba, but also countries like Afghanistan, Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine and Venezuela. Obviously, petrol producers (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela) don't want to irritate a big client like China. Others are developing countries (Colombia or the Philippines) with something to sell to China or a hope for Chinese investments. And then there are the countries rejecting the West for ideological/religious motives (Iran), plus those who hate to be cast in the role of  "US allies" (Afghanistan and Pakistan)... Still, if you had asked me, I would never have believed that Russia, Morocco or Tunisia would decline to go!

The Chinese moves against the Nobel Prize didn't stop there - didn't even end with obscuring the news about the prize in China or calling Liu a criminal. The Chinese government got unexpected help from its own people. Indeed, it is impressive how quickly and efficiently an alternative to the Nobel Prize was cobbled together, starting just a few weeks ago, from a suggestion first voiced on November 17 in the Global Times, a patriotic populist newspaper, by Liu Zhiqin, the Beijing representative of a Swiss Bank. Hey, who would ever have imagined the conservative Swiss were so good at choosing bold and politically outspoken staff? This guy called for a Confucius Peace Prize "to show the world our comprehension of peace and perception on human rights."

The idea went viral. Tan Changliu, the head of an otherwise ill-defined group of patriotic Chinese that claims not to be part of the government but supports its policy of blocking the Nobel, became the president of the self-styled Confucius Prize Committee. To make it respectable, professors from several Beijing universities were drafted in. They came up with a list of "candidates" that defies the imagination: from Nelson Mandela, the former South African President to Mahmoud Abbas, the palestinian Authority President, it includes two Americans, Bill Gates and Jimmy Carter. This was intended to show, as M. Tan put it, that the "Chinese people love Americans, and we hope Americans love us back. Sino-US peace means world peace."

To upstage the Nobel Prize ceremony scheduled for 10 December, theirs took place the day before. But, in the words of the New York Times, it was a "bare-bones affair". No concert, no speeches, no celebrities, just the flat announcement of the winner to a bunch of journalists. They had picked Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician friendly to the Chinese Communist Party, former vice president of Taiwan and honorary chairman of its opposition Nationalist Party. This was a clever choice: in Mr. Lien, they had found a man in sympathy with Chinese hegemonic views on Taiwan. In 2005, he had been the first Nationalist leader to travel to mainland China since 1949 in a "relations-warming" trip.Trouble was: the winner had not been informed and he was nowhere to be seen. In the absence of Mr. Lien, they resorted to the usual trick or replacing the winner by someone to pick up the prize, which includes, it is said, a $15,000 cash award.

Peanuts compared to the Nobel's $1.5 million - actually it is precisely one percent! But please note how well the idea is copied down to its last details. Even in some aspects that one may suppose the Confucius Committee would have preferred to avoid: like not having the winner show up, and having to scramble for someone at the last minute to accept the prize - someone who's apparently no relative.

Actually, the New York Times showed photos of a frowning little girl waving the prize's certificate, the corners of her mouth tugged down, clearly unhappy to be cast in this role. What is odd, is that France 24, the French international news TV channel showed two Chinese gentlemen in dark suits shaking hands at the Confucius Prize ceremony, giving the impression that the winner was there...Oh, how misleading TV news can be!

Then, to confuse matters further, there are those like Russia who would like to see Assange, the father of Wikileaks, to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize...

In the end, however, all this noise around the Nobel Peace prize is not bad. These farcical attacks only go to reinforce the moral stature of the Nobel Prize. What do you think?

Enhanced by Zemanta