Because We Want to Believe China Would Give Mugabe a Peace Prize

No, there is no such thing as a “China Response to the Nobel Peace Prize” that the People’s Republic this week willfully awarded Robert Mugabe.m

Despite this, the world’s heavyweight news outlets and commentators piled in this week with attention-grabbing headlines:

“Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe awarded ‘China’s Nobel peace prize’” (The Guardian, 22 Oct 2015)
“Zimbabwean President, Condemned by West, Is Selected for Chinese Peace Prize” (The New York Times, 22 Oct 2015)
“Now he can claim the honor of being awarded a Confucius Peace Prize, the Chinese answer to the Nobel Peace Prize.” (The New York Times, 22 Oct 2015)
“Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe wins China’s version of the Nobel Peace Prize” (The Washington Post, 22 Oct 2015)
“Robert Mugabe awarded peace prize by China” (The Independent, 22 Oct 2015)
“Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe wins China’s Nobel Peace Prize” (The Telegraph, 22 Oct 2015)
“‘Chinese Nobel’ Awarded to Dictator and Mass Murderer Robert Mugabe” (Slate, 22 Oct 2015)
“A “peace” prize for Mugabe: The double-speak behind China’s answer to the Nobel award” (Salon, 23 Oct 2015)
“Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe awarded ‘China’s answer to the Nobel Peace Prize’” (South China Morning Post, 22 Oct 2015)

In a number of these accounts the headlines trumpeted an attention-grabbing, outrageous, and inaccurate rendition of the factually correct statements that, to varying degrees, appeared in the report itself.

One of the earliest of these reports began:

“Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean dictator, has been named the winner of this year’s Confucius Prize, otherwise known as “China’s Nobel Peace Prize.”” (Quartz, 21 Oct 2015)

This account went viral.

To be clear the Quartz report did accurately also say, “The organizers are not connected to the Chinese government, and a year after it began, China’s culture ministry attempted to shut the operation down. But the committee moved to Hong Kong and renamed itself the China International Peace Studies Center.”

But this clarification towards the end, just before a dreary listing of previous winners, failed to square with the lead statement on “China’s Nobel Peace Prize”. Oh, wait, the renamed group did call itself “China something”, so …

Considerable breast-beating ensued on social media. Much vitriol and scorn poured on, among others, the UK for hosting Xi Jin Ping this week. Oh, the injustice. Oh, those horrible, horrible people.

Quietly and modestly, in a low-key way, Ankit Panda in The Diplomat (24 Oct 2015) spoke truth: “No, ‘China’ did not just give a Peace Prize to Mugabe. Despite appearances, the Confucius Peace Prize is not an outcome of Chinese government policy”.

This Confucius Peace Prize was put together by a bunch of academics and businesspeople – the “Association of Chinese Indigenous Arts in the People’s Republic of China” – who were then told by China’s Ministry of Culture to desist and disband. So they went and registered in Hong Kong as the “China International Peace Studies Center”. They claim to be working with China’s Ministry of Culture. This is not the case. No prior recipient has ever personally come forward to claim the prize. Chinese social media consider the prize an embarrassment and a joke. The People’s Republic has nothing to do with this; the Ministry of Culture wishes this group would stop.

The association is of course free to call the award what they want. But it’s as if a splinter group had been expelled from UKIP in Britain for being too extreme, re-formed somewhere in Bedfordshire as “UKIP+”, and the world’s media started reporting on the group’s pronouncements as newly re-energised UK foreign policy.

This prize just awarded Mugabe is NOT China’s official response to the Nobel Peace Prize.

I suspect the People’s Republic of China has many other serious challenges that take priority ahead of setting up a parody of the Nobel Peace Prize. It does the rest of the world no credit that we find it so easy to believe the worst of the PRC political leadership. Yes, that leadership is often inept and cack-handed at explaining its intentions. But perhaps it is not just that that is to blame for the serious public relations problems they have with the world outside.

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