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China's Confucius Prize debacle

The attempt by a group of patriotic Chinese scholars to create a Chinese alternative to the Nobel Prize appears to have backfired disastrously today, with the recipient a no-show and the Chinese government distancing itself from their efforts. 

The first ever Confucius Peace Prize was awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan, who worked for closer ties between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. But Tien wasn't in attendance, largely because no one from the committee had bothered to inform him about it. Instead, the award was given to a young girl described as an "angel of peace."

Who exactly is behind the prize remains a bit of a mystery. The existence of the prize was first announced three weeks ago, though bizarrely, the organizers also claimed they had been preparing for it since 1988 and had been seeking "Confucian wisdom." The organizers at first claimed to have worked closely with the Chinese culture ministry, but the government claims to have nothing to do with the prize and it has received little coverage in state media. 

Other nominees for the prize reportedly included Bill Gates, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Panchen Lama. (The Beijing-approved one, of course.) 

The jurors refused to acknowledge that the prize had anything to do with imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo, who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia tomorrow, or even mention his name. But the official prize announcement did take some gratuitous shots at puny little Norway:

China is a symbol of peace, meanwhile it owns the absolute power to uphold peace. With over 1 billion people, it should have a greater voice on the issue of world peace. In essence, Norway is only a small country with scarce land area and population, but it must be in the minority in terms of other relatively large numbers concerning the conception of freedom and democracy. Hence, the selection of the "Nobel Peace Prize" should open [sic] to the people in the world instead of engaging in "minority" type of the [sic] so-called presumption. Because it is unable to stand on the highest point of the whole human being, but also difficult to represent the viewpoint of most people, which could be inevitably biased and fallacious.

As usual, the good folks at Next Media Animation had the last laugh.

LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images

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Controversial Russian highway plan back on

Looks like even Bono couldn't stop it. Despite a wave of protest environmental and civil society groups throughout the summer, it appears that the Kremlin is going ahead with a controversial plan to build a highway through the Khimki forest, north of Moscow:

The Moscow-St. Petersburg highway has become a political issue for the Kremlin after a wave of opposition protests last summer. In August, President Dmitry Medvedev suspended it in a decision welcomed by environmentalists.

Vedomosti quoted several unidentified Kremlin sources, including a senior official, as saying construction would go ahead after all. The Kremlin declined to comment Thursday.

Opponents to the project argue the highway could easily be re-routed without damaging pristine woodland. The project has become a rallying point for environmentalists, rights groups and Kremlin critics.

FP contributor Julia Ioffe adds some context:

Why did this happen? Well, money, for one thing. Vinci, the French company building the road, apparently used the French government to lean on the Kremlin, which was already probably quite willing to listen: if there was deemed to be a breach of contract between SKZZ (Vinci’s vehicle) and the Russian company N-Trans, N-Trans could be liable for as much as 3.5 billion rubles ($113 million). And let’s not forget who N-Trans invited to participate in the project to make sure it gets built: longtime Putin buddy Arkady Rotenberg.

Something tells me that, as much as the Kremlin totally, absolutely, hilariously wants to appease– I mean, pretend– I mean, develop civil society, that Rotenberg’s — and Putin’s — skajillions matter more.

Three journalists who have reported critically on the project, including Kommersant's Oleg Kashin, who have reported crticially on the project have been attacked over the last two years.