The sponsors of a would-be Chinese alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize said Tuesday that they would defy a government order to not award this year's prize, which is to be given to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Qiao Damo, head of the China International Peace Research Center, said the group plans to proceed with a Dec. 9 ceremony to award the Confucius Peace Prize. That's despite what Qiao said were orders from the Culture Ministry to cancel the ceremony because permission wasn't given to publicize the award and the group had illicitly changed its name.
The ministry said in September that it had ordered the prize canceled, but did not immediately respond to further requests for comment Tuesday.
Qiao's group hastily launched the prize last year in an apparent attempt to counter the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize that went to jailed Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for co-authoring an appeal for political reform.
Liu's win enraged the government and Chinese nationalists, who accused the Nobel committee of interfering in China's legal system as part of a plot to bring the nation down in disgrace.
The first prize was awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan, though Lien, unaware of the proceedings, did not show up to claim it at a somewhat surreal ceremony. The award and a prize of 100,000 yuan ($15,000) in cash were instead given to a young girl who the organizers refused to identify.
There were no indications that Putin was aware of the plans to give him this year's award.
The center's justification for awarding its peace prize to the Russian prime minister seems slightly dubious given his reputation for jailing political rivals and cracking down on government critics.
During his 2000-2008 time as president, Putin "brought remarkable enhancement to the military might and political status of Russia," the center said in a statement announcing this year's prize that also cited Putin's crushing of anti-government forces in Chechnya.
The award's sponsors are professors and academics who say they are independent of the government.
The authorities' hostility to the prize appears rooted in its desire to retain control over civil society and prevent independent players from seeking a role in Beijing's foreign relations.
While the government has enthusiastically embraced the need for more robust cultural links to enhance China's "soft power," it wants that charm campaign to stay under the firm direction of the ruling Communist Party.
In comments to The Associated Press, Qiao denied that permission was needed to hold a news conference Sunday at which Putin's win was announced because the center is a non-governmental body.
He said there had been no move to change the group's name, adding that the ministry appeared to be confused. The group hopes to present a gold statue of Confucius, the ancient Chinese sage, at next month's ceremony, but if forced to call it off, will simply begin planning for next year's prize, Qiao said.
"We only wish to present a status of Confucius because that symbolizes the Confucian idea of peace," Qiao said.
Qiao said the 16-member award committee considered a range of candidates for this year's prize, including Microsoft founder and global philanthropist Bill Gates, South African President Jacob Zuma and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.