Foreign Policy: The Peace Prize Nobody Wants

Sep 11, 2012

Colum Lynch reports on the United Nations for Foreign Policy

The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and his predecessor, Kofi Annan, have toiled in the cause of peace in Syria this year. So it's perhaps not a surprise that they would be nominated for an international peace prize. But this is one award they will not likely be bragging about if they win.

"It's not like you would campaign for this," quipped one U.N. official. "At least I hope no one is campaigning for this."

The organizers of the Confucius Peace Prize this weekend announced the nomination of the U.N. luminaries, along with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and several others for a prize that awarded last year to Russian President Vladimir Putin — in recognition of his opposition to the NATO-led bombing campaign in Libya, and which praised his military campaigns in Chechnya and Georgia.

"These were righteous wars," the Confucius Peace Prize committee co-founder and president Qiao Damo, told the New York Times last year. Human rights advocates have differed, accusing Putin's forces and proxies of engaging in large-scale rights abuses.

The Chinese prize was established as Beijing's answer to the decision to honor Liu Xiaobo, the jailed pro-democracy dissident, in 2010 with the Nobel Peace Prize.

The selection of Liu infuriated the Chinese government, and prompted a Chinese banker, Liu Zhiqin, to propose that China establish the Confucius Peace Prize to counteract what he characterized as the West's anti-Chinese bias and to highlight China's "views on peace and human rights."

"The Nobel Peace prize won Liu Xiaobo while losing the trust of 1.3 billion Chinese people," Liu Zhiqin wrote in a November 2010 opinion piece. "They support a criminal while creating 1.3 billion 'dissidents' that are dissatisfied with the Nobel Committee, which is definitely a bad decision."

The effort to establish the prize's legitimacy has been rocky.

The committee's first award recipient, Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician who promoted improved ties between China and Taiwan, did not show up at the awards ceremony, saying he'd never heard of the award, and even Putin's press office told reporters they didn't know much about the report, according to the New York Times.

The Chinese government meanwhile criticized the committee organizers for suggesting they were linked to the Chinese Ministry of Culture. But the prize lives on.

This year' s other nominees include Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Chinese social activist Wang Dingguo, Peking University Prof. Tang Yijie, Chinese rice researcher Yuan Longping.

A spokesman for Ban, Farhan Haq, said that any decision on whether Ban or Annan would accept the prize, if awarded, is hypothetical since the winner has not been announced. But he says that secretaries general frequently do accept awards on the behalf of the United Nations, donating cash awards to humanitarian causes.

But Ban and Annan still face stiff competition from another nominee — China's choice to inherit the title of Tibet's spiritual leader, known as the 11th Panchen Lama, when the current Dalai Lama dies. The Dalai Lama anointed another heir back in 1995, a six-year old boy who was subsequently taken into "protective custody" by the Chinese government and never seen in public again.

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