February 3, 2009 / 3:00 AM / 11 years ago

China treads lightly after shoe protest

BEIJING (Reuters) - China denounced a protester at Cambridge University who threw a shoe at visiting Premier Wen Jiabao, but nevertheless hailed Wen’s visit as a success and avoided widespread reporting of the incident.

The protester threw the shoe and called Wen a dictator while the Chinese leader spoke at the British university on Monday, near the end of a week-long visit to Europe. The shoe missed Wen and landed about a meter away from him.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called the protest “despicable,” but state-run newspapers and television reports did not report it.

“The Chinese side has expressed its strong displeasure over this incident,” Jiang said in a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website (www.fmprc.gov.cn) on Tuesday. The statement did not describe what the protester did.

“The facts demonstrate that the despicable conduct of this troublemaker will win no sympathy, and will not hold back the tide of friendly cooperation between China and Britain.”

Beijing has promoted Wen’s visit to Europe as a friendly “tour of confidence,” building cooperation after tensions between the two sides over Tibet. China’s ruling Communist Party keeps a tight grip over mass media and reports usually avoid showing leaders in awkward or unfavorable situations.

The People’s Daily noted that Wen’s speech at Cambridge won “sustained applause” and did not mention the shoe. The official Xinhua news agency quoted Wen as saying that his trip to Europe was “fully successful.”

It said China voiced “strong dissatisfaction” over an incident without saying what the incident was.

The Xinhua website also showed a picture of young people at Cambridge holding up a Chinese sign, “I love Bao-Bao” — a nickname for Wen.

The protest echoed the hurling of shoes by an Iraqi journalist at U.S. President George W. Bush during his farewell visit to Iraq in December, an incident Chinese media did report.

Despite the official media reticence, some of China’s many bloggers were vocal about the university protest.

“The first one who threw shoes was a genius,” said one comment on Smth.org, a Chinese-language website used by Beijing university students, referring to the Iraqi reporter. “The second one was a pig-head.”

Others took some cheer from the incident.

“The protest proved that China’s power had been recognized by the British,” said one comment on Sina.com, a popular Chinese-language website. “People wouldn’t protest against a little country.”

Reporting by Chris Buckley and Yu Le; Editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani

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