BEIJING – Only three weeks after the idea was first publicly floated, China has cobbled together its own peace prize and plans to award it Thursday — the day before the Nobel Committee honors an imprisoned Chinese dissident in a move that has enraged Beijing.
Since Liu Xiaobo's selection, China has vilified the 54-year-old democracy advocate, called the choice an effort by the West to contain its rise, disparaged his supporters as "clowns," and launched a campaign to persuade countries not to attend Friday's ceremony in Oslo. The government is also preventing Liu — who is serving an 11-year sentence for co-authoring a bold appeal for political reforms in the Communist country — and his family members from attending.
Amid the flurry of action came a commentary published on Nov. 17 in a Communist Party-approved tabloid that suggested China create its own award — the "Confucius Peace Prize" — to counter the choice of Liu.
Three weeks later, The Associated Press has learned, China is doing just that.
Named after the famed philosopher, the new prize was created to "interpret the viewpoints of peace of (the) Chinese (people)," the awards committee said in a statement it released to the AP on Tuesday.
Awards committee chairman Tan Changliu said his group was not an official government body, but acknowledged that it worked closely with the Ministry of Culture. He declined to give specifics about the committee, when it was created and how the five judges were chosen, saying it would be disclosed later.
The first honoree is Lien Chan, Taiwan's former vice president and the honorary chairman of its Nationalist Party, for having "built a bridge of peace between the mainland and Taiwan." A staffer in his Taipei office said she could not comment Tuesday because she knew nothing about the prize.
Lien was chosen from among eight nominees — some of whom are regularly mentioned for, or have already won, that other peace prize: including billionaire Bill Gates, former South African President Nelson Mandela, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Panchen Lama, the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism.
While China regularly disparages the Dalai Lama, the religion's spiritual leader, the current Panchen Lama is a 20-year-old who was hand-picked by Beijing. The original boy named by the Dalai Lama has disappeared.
"We should not compete, we should not confront the Nobel Prize, but we should try to set up another standard," said Liu Zhiqin, the Beijing businessman who suggested the prize in The Global Times. "The Nobel prize is not a holy thing that we cannot doubt or question. Everyone has a right to dispute whether it's right or wrong." Liu said in the phone interview that he was not involved in setting up the new awards.
Tan, who leads the awards committee, acknowledged that the new prize, which comes with a purse of 100,000 yuan ($15,000), doesn't have international recognition: "It needs to grow gradually, and we hope people will believe the award is of global significance."
China is not the first nation to be rankled by a Nobel Peace Prize. During Nazi Germany era, Adolf Hitler created the German National Prize for Art and Science in 1937 as a replacement for the Nobel. He had forbidden German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting his Nobel awarded in 1935.
This year, China's clampdown against Liu and his supporters means the Nobel medal and money won't be handed out for the first time since that period. Nobel officials say the prestigious $1.4 million award can be collected only by the laureate or close family members.
In the meantime, China is chipping away at the Nobel: It succeeded in persuading 18 other countries to boycott the upcoming ceremony, including longtime allies like Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba as well as business partners Saudi Arabia and Iran, Nobel officials said Tuesday.
Beijing sharpened its denunciations, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu accusing the Nobel committee of "orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves."
"We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path," she said.
But Beijing's hastily arranged efforts to provide a distraction to the Nobel ceremony are counterproductive, said Oxford University China scholar Steve Tsang.
"The whole thing is too obviously being rushed to counter the Nobel Prize to Liu Xiaobo. People will see it for what it is. That being the case, it's not going to be very credible," he said.
If anything, China's heavy-handed reactions in the wake of the announcement, which include putting Liu's wife and other supporters under house arrest and barring dozens of activists from traveling to Oslo, "simply give the rest of the world the impression that human rights is really in trouble in China," he said.