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2010 could be China's year for Nobel Peace Prize

by Staff Writers
Oslo (AFP) Oct 3, 2010
After its Obama bombshell last year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee could make waves again this year, some predict, by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident.

The Nobel season opens Monday with the Medicine Prize, followed by awards for exceptional work in physics, chemistry, literature and economics.

But all eyes are fixed on the prestigious Peace Prize, which could create an upset again this year if some predictions come true.

"If the Nobel Committee is courageous, and I think it will be, it should reward Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo," said Asle Sveen, a historian and Nobel Prize specialist.

"There's been talk of a Chinese dissident for the prize for so long," he told AFP.

Such a choice would certainly infuriate Beijing.

Geir Lundestad, the influential secretary of the Nobel Committee, recently said he was warned in June by Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying that rewarding a Chinese dissident would be seen by Beijing as "an unfriendly gesture" which could affect the relationship between China and Norway.

Liu Xiaobo, a 54-year-old writer, was sentenced last December to 11 years behind bars for subversion after co-authoring a bold manifesto calling for democratic reform, "Charter 08", which was signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals, academics and writers, and thousands of others after it was circulated on the Internet.

Online betting website deemed him a gamblers' best bet this year with odds of 6 to 1.

He is ahead of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Russian human rights group Memorial and its founding member Svetlana Gannushkina, and Ireland's Mary Robinson, a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who all have odds of 8 to 1.

"Liu would be a popular choice in the Western world, where he could help people forget that Obama fell short of expectations," Sveen said, adding such a pick could help re-establish the prize's lustre in the United States.

US President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 after less than a year in office and as Washington was waging wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The pick triggered widespread criticism of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

This year, the five members of the committee will have a record of 237 candidates to chose from. The list is secret, except for the names revealed by those who suggest them.

"I believe the winner of the 2010 is somebody few people will know about," said Scott London, a US journalist and author who closely follows the Nobels.

"It may be somebody working for peace in an unconventional way -- a peace researcher, for example, or an investigative journalist," he said.

The head of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Kristian Berg Harpviken, said this week the committee would probably "be somewhat more traditional in its selection of a candidate than it was last year."

He said Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar, the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma radio and the Special Court for Sierra Leone were likely picks.

Other nominees include three people widely regarded as the creators of the Internet: Americans Larry Roberts and Vint Cerf and Britain's Tim Berners-Lee.

The International Space Station, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege and Chinese dissidents Hu Jia et Gao Zisheng are also known to be on the list.

The other true headline-making Nobel, the Literature Prize, will be awarded in Stockholm on Thursday.

Literary circles have speculated it could go to a poet for the first time since 1996, and perhaps to a woman from Africa, such as Algerian poet Assia Djebar.

In poetry, the usual suspects are Tomas Transtroemer of Sweden, Syria's Adonis and South Korea's Ko Un.

Other writers who regularly are tipped for the prize are Canadian authors Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, US novelists Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates and Israel's Amos Oz.

Laureates receive 10 million Swedish kronor (1.49 million dollars, 1.09 million euros) which can be split between up to three winners per prize.

The Peace Prize will be handed out in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the prizes.

Other Nobel laureates will pick up their prizes in Stockholm on the same day.

earlier related report
Fiji warms to China with 'tai chi diplomacy'
Suva (AFP) Oct 3, 2010 - At a sun-drenched park on Suva's waterfront, Fiji's rugby-loving military ruler Voreqe Bainimarama extols the benefits of tai chi as a master of the slow-motion Chinese martial art looks on.

"It can be used in self-defence and as a form of meditation or as a sport," Bainimarama told public servants last month, before they were encouraged to try basic moves such as "grasp bird's tail" and "carry tiger to the mountain".

Bainimarama's conversion to tai chi's gentle techniques was not prompted by disillusionment with the tough sport he grew up playing -- rather, it symbolises his quest since his 2006 coup to forge closer links with China.

In one of the more unusual examples of Beijing's "soft power" diplomatic initiatives, after a ministerial visit China sent the tai chi master to Fiji to encourage exercise among its public servants.

More conventional signs of China's influence are dotted around the Pacific nation, including the Navuso "friendship bridge" and a hydro-electric scheme under construction at Nadarivatu.

Pacific experts say that Fiji, like the rest of the world, is keen to boost trade with Asia's rising economic superpower.

But they also point out that Prime Minister Bainimarama wants to send a message to Fiji's traditional allies Australia and New Zealand that the country can look elsewhere if they maintain efforts to isolate it diplomatically.

"A lot of the Chinese angle is a stick to try to beat Canberra and Wellington into signing up for Bainimarama's reform agenda," Jon Fraenkel of Canberra's Australian National University told AFP.

Since the coup, Australia and New Zealand have pushed the regime to restore democracy, successfully pushing for Fiji's suspension from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth of mainly former British colonies.

The United States has also criticised the regime and the European Union has suspended aid payments worth tens of millions of dollars over Bainimarama's failure to commit to holding free elections.

Suva's response has been a flurry of diplomatic activity involving China. Bainimarama travelled there in August and President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau completed a nine-day state visit on Sunday.

"(China) is the only nation that can help assist Fiji in its reforms because of the way the Chinese think," Bainimarama said recently. "They think outside the box. What they want to do they do, they are visionary in what they do.

"I think we need to forget about the (Pacific Islands) Forum, about Australia and New Zealand. Let's maintain the trade but forget about the politics."

However, Fergus Hanson from the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based foreign policy think-tank, said there were questions about the depth of the relationship between Beijing and Suva.

He said that immediately after the coup, China was locked in a battle with Taiwan for diplomatic influence in the Pacific and promised generous aid to Fiji.

While some projects were going ahead, Hanson said, much of the heat had now gone out of the China-Taiwan rivalry in the Pacific and not all of Beijing's pledges to Fiji had been met.

"Despite all the hype that Bainimarama's generating around this relationship, I don't think there's any suggestion that China's suddenly going to become the most important country to Fiji," he told AFP.

Fraenkel said the military government of Sitiveni Rabuka adopted a similar "Look North" policy of engagement with China and Malaysia after a 1987 coup but it amounted to little.

He said the move toward China may also be designed to put pressure on the International Monetary Fund, which is discussing a bailout with Fiji to help cover 150 million US dollars in debt repayments that mature next September.

Fiji can take some comfort in signs from Washington last week of a thaw in diplomatic attitudes, with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Kurt Campbell saying the United States was ready for dialogue.

Campbell told Congress that Washington wanted to work with regional players to restore Fiji to the international community but would ease sanctions only in return for progress on democracy.

"Our objective is to put Fiji back on track for reintegration into international institutions and for holding free and fair elections no later than 2014," he said.

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