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Chinese 'peace prize' ahead of Nobel ceremony

Brushing aside questions over its political motives, a Chinese group awarded its own "peace prize" today, just a day before the Nobel Committee was set to honour jailed China dissident Liu Xiaobo.

world Updated: Dec 09, 2010 14:48 IST

Brushing aside questions over its political motives, a Chinese group awarded its own "peace prize" on Thursday, just a day before the Nobel Committee was set to honour jailed China dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The inaugural Confucius Peace Prize was awarded to former Taiwan vice president Lien Chan at a chaotic press conference held by a handful of Chinese university professors who presented themselves as the prize "jury".

Lien's own office has denied all knowledge of the award, but that did not stop them presenting it on his behalf to a pony-tailed young Chinese girl.

"For Peace!" jury member Yang Disheng said as he handed the glass trophy to the girl, who looked somewhat frightened.

The prize comes one day before the Nobel ceremony honouring Liu, a dissident writer who has called for political reform in one-party-ruled China and who was announced as peace laureate in October.

A deeply embarrassed China has responded furiously to the award, threatening it would harm relations with Norway, lashing the Nobel committee as "clowns" and pressuring countries to stay away from the ceremony.

Members of the prize jury denied any link to China's government or suggestions their prize was a response to Liu's award.

"The more peace prizes we can have in the world, the better," said Yang, identified by the jury as a professor of "ideology and culture" at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

But the press conference soon took on a farcical tone when members were questioned about aspects of the award, such as the timing.

Jury chair Tan Changliu, a professor at Beijing Normal University, said the award had been in the works for "a long time", but refused to provide specifics.

Chinese poet Qiao Damo, one of the "candidates", said the lack of any word from Lien's camp could be seen as "silent acceptance" of the prize.

In Taiwan, his office said on Thursday they had not been contacted about the award so could not comment.

Liu, a writer and academic who has boldly advocated human rights and political reform in China for more than two decades, was jailed in December 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges after co-authoring Charter 08.

Despite jury members' assertions that their award was not linked to Liu's, their literature expressed resentment towards Norway.

It said China, with its population of 1.3 billion people, "should have a greater voice on the issue of world peace", calling Norway "only a small country with scarce land area and population".

Lien was a safe political choice. He is an honorary chairman of Taiwan's Beijing-friendly ruling Kuomintang party. Other "candidates" included South African democracy icon Nelson Mandela and former US president Jimmy Carter.