Was there a conflict of interest behind the Nobel literature prize?

Last week's decision to award the Nobel Prize in literature to Mo Yan was national news in China as state broadcasters broke into the regularly scheduled evening news to make the announcement that a Chinese writer had finally won the prize, easing anxiety among the country's leaders regarding the Western world's recognition of Chinese cultural prowess.

But now the integrity of that prize has come under question in Sweden.

Göran Malmqvist, a sinologist and member of the Swedish Academy, was instrumental in Mo's selection, lobbying the academy to recognize the Chinese writer and providing Swedish translations of the writer's work to other members of the academy. Now he stands to benefit financially from those tranlsations. According to a report by Swedish Television, Malmqvist will provide his translations to a Swedish publisher for publication. And according to the head of that publishing company, Tranan, because of the intense interest on Mo's work as a result of his Nobel win Malmqvist will likely be able to name his own price.

According to an examination of the academy's policies carried out by Swedish Television, Malmqvist's actions in this case may be in violation of the Swedish Academy's conflict of interest rules, which are extremely strict in order to prevent this type of real or perceived impropriety. If there is even a slight indication of conflict of interest, the person in question is supposed to leave the premises during discussions regarding the candidate, and a member of the academy affected by a potential conflict of interst can "in no way participate in the handling of the question."

In borderline cases, or ones that may only create a perceived conflict, the academy's rules dictate that its members should err on the side of caution: "There may be circumstances that simply do not 'feel right' and that therefore could be called into question ... In such cases members should err on the side of caution, and it may be appropriate to refrain from participating in the handling of the question."

Despite these rules, Peter Englund, the academy's permanent secretary, confirmed to Swedish Television that Malmqvist was highly involved in discussions around awarding Mo the prize.

In the ensuing media frenzy, Englund and Malmqvist have both denied accusations that he stood to inappropriately benefit from awarding the prize to Mo.

Englund said in an email to Swedish Television that Malmqvist did not have an agreement in place with the publishing company to provide translations of Mo's work prior to the academy's decision to award him the Nobel. Only after that decision did Malmqvist provide the publisher with his translations. Critics of course contend that this is a disctinction without a difference, and that Malmqvist knew that he stood to bring in a hefty contract by having translations of Mo's work ready for publication as soon as the prize was unveiled.

Malmqvist, meanwhile, is nothing short of furious at the accusations and sent a blistering email this week to a group of Swedish reporters and editors worth quoting at length:

"Swedish Television's culture desk has apparently fumbled in the dark when they decided to try and dig up a conflict of interest scandal. Send them a message from me the next time you see them at your morning coffee that they should get better glasses or more powerful flashlights the next time they decide to venture out in the dark. With idiots like ... Anton whatever-his-name-is at Swedish Television's culture desk I suppose we have gotten the kind of cultural coverage that we deserve in this provincial backwater."

If this scandal develops further, it is only likely to further inflame Chinese insecurities about the prize. It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to conjure up the inevitable angry statement issued by a CCP spokesman about how anti-Chinese elements in the Western cultural establishment will go to any length in order to discredit the achivements of Chinese artists, especially one that hasn't yet fallen out of favor with the regime.



Kim Jong Il's grandson talks school and Libya in TV interview

Kim Jong Il's grandson has a Libyan roommate. They like to talk politics, including the 2011 revolution that overthrew Muammar al-Qaddafi. He grew up isolated in North Korea, but now has both American and South Korean friends, and hopes that in the future he'll be able to take a bus down the peninsula to South Korea to see them. He never met his grandfather; it was something he'd really hoped to do before the dictator passed away in December of last year.

These insights and more came out during a recent interview with Kim Han Sol, who is a student at the UN sponsored United World College in Mostar, Bosnia, on Finnish television. The interview was conducted by former Finnish Defense Minister Elisabeth Rehn. It's well worth a watch:

Kim tells Rehn that his roommate was very supportive of the revolution in Libya:

"It was quite an interesting experience throughout the the year having a Libyan roommate. And especially the revolution, when it happened he was really enthusiastic about it, and he was telling me many he went home and saw different Libya....It was really interesting."

He describes how his mother was from an "ordinary" North Korean family, and how when he moved to Macau as a child for school, meeting South Koreans was initially "awkward""

"We had people from United States, South Korea, and these are countries that we have been having a lot of conflicts with, a lot of tension. But then we turned out to be really great friends in the end, and that just sparked a curiosity for me to go further to the next level."

Kim Han Sol sparked something of a media frenzy last year when it was reported he would be attending school in Bosnia. But in the videos he seems well adjusted and charming. He speaks good, slightly American-accented English, wears stylish glasses and has two earrings in his left ear.

Kim Han Sol is the son of Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong-Il's eldest son, who was reportedly the favorite to succeed his father but reported fell out of favor, after pushing the boundaries of what was tolerated from a member of the dynasty. In 2001, he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disney, and has denied he has plans to defect.

Kim Han Sol says his father is not interested in politics, and that when he finished his studies he hopes to volunteer and do humanitarian work.