China’s media, quick to report when a shoe was thrown at former US president George W. Bush last year, sidestepped any direct mention or images yesterday of a protester hurling his shoe at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) during a speech in Britain.
Unlike the now-famous incident when an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at Bush in December, covered widely not only in China but around the world, state-run newspapers and Web sites in China carried stories on Wen’s speech but had no reference to the shoe-throwing. Content mentioning it on Internet forums also appears to have been deleted.
The Xinhua news agency issued a story saying that Britain apologized for an incident and that China had “expressed its strong feelings against the occurrence of the incident.” However, it did not say what the incident was.
China’s state-run CCTV network reported Foreign Ministry comments, which acknowledged a “disturbance” during the speech, but made no mention a shoe had been thrown at Wen.
In the live broadcast of the speech on CCTV’s Web site, the camera remains fixed on Wen, not showing the shoe or the protester, although his remarks and the sound of the shoe hitting the stage can be heard. Wen pauses, glances sideways as the shoe hits the stage, and then continues his speech.
“Teachers and students, this kind of dirty trick cannot stop the friendship between the Chinese and the British people,” Wen said, followed by applause.
Papers like the staid People’s Daily and the commercial tabloid Beijing News carried reports of Wen’s Cambridge speech but made no mention of the shoe-throwing.
China keeps a tight grip over the Internet, blocking any content deemed as a challenge or insulting to the Chinese Communist Party.
The incident came at the end of a three-day visit to Britain that was dogged by demonstrations over human rights and Tibet.
The protester leapt from his seat near the back of a crowded auditorium at Cambridge University, blew a whistle and yelled that Wen was a “dictator” before throwing a shoe toward the stage.
“How can this university prostitute itself with this dictator here, how can you listen ... to him unchallenged,” the man shouted.
Security staff escorted the young man, who was not Chinese and had dark hair, a short beard and glasses, from the auditorium.
The shoe missed, and one of Wen’s aides stepped on stage, picked it up and took it away.
Later, the 27-year-old man was charged with a public order offense, police said yesterday.
He will appear before Cambridge magistrates next Tuesday.
In the past, Chinese leaders have demanded that foreign governments keep protesters out of the way during visits. In Switzerland last week, police sealed off streets in Bern to keep Tibetan protesters away from Wen to avoid repeating an incident during then-Chinese president Jiang Zemin’s (江澤民) visit 10 years ago.
After protesters got too close to Jiang, he angrily told the Swiss president: “You have lost a good friend.”