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Confucian reigns as China awards a Nobel alternative

Historically repressive countries are lousy when it comes to public relations. Witness Lenin’s grainy films about homelessness in America, so spectacularly failing to show the greater glories of Soviet Russia; or North Korea’s laughable contention that Kim Jong-il had a supernatural birth which saw a rainbow appear as the season spontaneously changed from winter to spring. Today, we travel to China for the latest spectacular PR own-goal by an authoritarian government – the cack-handed awarding of this year’s Confucius Peace Prize.

The award was established in 2010 as an antidote to the Nobel Peace Prize, when last year’s Nobel committee enraged the ruling Communist Party of China by bestowing the honour upon Liu Xiaobo, an outspoken critic of the Chinese regime, for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”. In response, Chinese banker Liu Zhiqin proposed the alternative Confucius Peace Prize in an editorial in the Global Times. The recipient would be someone who “promoted world peace from an Eastern perspective’” – specifically, one with Confucian values.

Last December, prominent Taiwanese politician Lien Chan was announced as the inaugural winner. Strangely, however, he was not told he had won the award, with an aide explaining that Chan had only received “second-hand information from journalists” regarding the Prize. Having failed to turn up for the award ceremony, a young girl was presented with the Prize in his place, although the committee declined to state who she was or why she was chosen.

This year’s Prize has been no less controversial. Incongruously, the committee has just announced that this year’s recipient, having fought off illustrious competition in the form of Bill Gates, Angela Merkel, Jacob Zuma and Kofi Annan (ironically, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner), is… Vladimir Putin!

Whilst many descriptive expressions spring to mind when we think of the KGB agent turned Russian President, ‘man of peace’ is perhaps not one of them. His human rights record is, at best, questionable; meanwhile, the ongoing Chechen War – launched by Putin in 1999 – has cost the lives of up to 75,000 people thus far. However, it is arguably for this very reason that Putin has been chosen as the lucky winner; the committee has praised his ‘tough guy’ image and hardline nationalism, tellingly noting his “iron hand” in undertaking “large-scale military action” in Chechnya.

Curiously, the Chinese government itself has recently condemned the award, stating that it does not in fact represent the way in which China values peace. Indeed, the Confucius committee has been moving its HQ back and forth between mainland China and Hong Kong in an attempt to evade the very authorities whose values they are supposedly representing. Nonetheless, one of the greatest fears of the Chinese ruling elite is that ethnic nationalists in Tibet or Xinjiang, like democrats in Taiwan, might succeed in breaking away from mainland China and governing themselves.

For the Communist Party, determined to maintain their grip on power, Putin – who crushed the small province and Chechnya and who invaded the Georgian region of South Ossetia in 2008 – taught potential dissenters an imperial lesson. Though the ruling party may not be publicly praising the decision of the committee, that they might be privately appreciative of Putin’s unlikely triumph is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Tags: China, democracy, nobel peace prize., Putin, Russia

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