China’s on-again, off-again answer to the Nobel Peace Prize is back this year, and more outlandish than ever. The China International Peace Research Center announced the winner today: Russian premier and returning president, Vladimir Putin. Putin, who made headlines days ago by reminding American dinner guests that his country can “destroy America in half an hour” and threatening to expand Russia’s nuclear arsenal, has been honored for making himself “outstanding in world peace” by opposing NATO’s intervention in Libya.
The prize is one of China’s great gifts to bloggers – after coming into being as a tit-for-tat response to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s choice of a Chinese dissident last year, the prize’s first recipient missed the awards ceremony, unaware of his win. The university professors who organized the prize then split into two rival groups, the China International Peace Research Center and the Confucius World Peace Prize, each of whom brand the other as an imitator, before the Ministry of Culture announced that neither was authorized to issue a prize in its name this year.
The Peace Research Center, which made today’s announcement, is an offshoot registered in Hong Kong to get around the mainland government’s kibosh. So the prize is certainly not a signal from Beijing – whose relationship with Russia has seemed chilly at best lately. It’s unclear whether Putin knows of his selection – organizers say they have notified the Russian embassy but received no response. And, given the prize's dubious status he seems almost certain to be another no-show.
Like last year’s prize, a transparently self-interested response to the Nobel Prize, this year’s choice of Vladimir Putin seems to demonstrate a phenomenally weak grasp of public relations. It may play better in China, where NATO’s intervention in Libya was widely seen as an invasion. But it may simply be proof that in China, as in most places, self-described patriots rarely do more thinking than it takes to divide the world into an us and and a them.