Nineteen governments have said their ambassadors will not attend a ceremony this week awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the Norwegian prize committee said Tuesday, more than tripling the number of rejections and reflecting the strong pressure exerted by Beijing to boycott the event.
At the same time, China announced it would create its own prize for peace, named for the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, and award it for the first time on Thursday, a day before the Nobel ceremony. The choice of recipient offered a stark counterpoint as well: a Taiwanese politician who opened doors to the mainland.
The Nobel committee, in a statement on its website, said that as of Monday, 44 embassies in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, had signaled their intention to send a representative to the ceremony on Friday. But the number who "for various reasons declined our invitations" rose to 19, from six three weeks ago, the statement said. Those countries, in addition to China, are Afghanistan, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam.
China was incensed by the Nobel committee's choice of Liu, who is serving an 11-year sentence for his essays and a manifesto he helped draft, Charter 08, which demands political reform, human rights guarantees and an independent judicial system. The government has been waging an offensive to rebrand the prize — which comes with a medal and $1.5 million — as a Western ploy to undermine the Chinese Communist Party's hold on power.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the newly created Confucius Peace Prize committee, Tan Changliu, told the Associated Press that the first award would be given to Lien Chan, former vice president of Taiwan and the honorary chairman of its opposition Nationalist Party. It includes a prize of $15,000.
The Nobel committee, for its part, has said that for the first time since 1936, the prize will not be handed over because neither Liu nor members of his family have been permitted to travel to Oslo to receive it.