China has abandoned its own version of the Nobel Peace Prize after just one year. The Confucius Peace Prize was hurriedly put together last year just ahead of the Nobel ceremony in what was seen as a clear attempt to counter the publicity surrounding jailed activist Liu Xiaobo.
Liu, the eventual winner, was the clear favourite for the Nobel Prize, despite Beijing’s strong objections. He was detained in December 2008 for co-authoring a democratic manifesto called Charter 08, which listed a number of demands including freedom of association and freedom of religion.
Beijing lobbied hard against the prize being awarded to Liu, including a warning from China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying to Norway that it would damage relations between the two countries if Liu was awarded the prize, despite the Norwegian government having no say in selecting the winner. When Liu was announced as the winner, Chinese TV channels covering the award ceremony went black, in what was seen as a clumsy effort at censorship.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu as saying in response that the Peace Prize should be awarded to people who make contributions on issues such as advancing disarmament or those who work toward national harmony.
‘The Nobel committee's decision to award such a person the peace prize ran contrary to and desecrated the prize,’ he said.
The alternative Confucius Prize was awarded the day before the Nobel Prize to KMT Honorary Chairman Lien Chan, who some reports suggested didn’t know he had even won the prize. A small girl received the prize on his behalf.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly given the chaotic nature of the award, Chinese officials were keen to distance themselves from the prize. This week, the Association of Chinese Local Art said the group’s cultural protection department, which had established the Confucius Prize last year, had ‘been disbanded and what would have been the second prize was cancelled,’ the Washington Post reported.
The Wall Street Journal reports that ‘the organizers apparently didn’t seek permission from China’s Ministry of Culture to offer the prize. According to one group affiliated with the prize, the Chinese Native Art Association, authorities revoked permission to offer it under the name of an officially sanctioned group.’
In an interview, the Wall Street Journal says Liu Haofeng, an artist and the Confucius award’s executive chairman, pledged that the award ‘would continue outside the auspices of the government and would be given out next year.’
And who might be considered for such a prize? According to a shortlist of candidates released by organizers a few weeks back, potential winners were Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, South African President Jacob Zuma and Bill Gates.