Friday, April 21, 2006

THIS MAKES MY BLOOD BOIL. A Chinese dissident manages to get past security at the welcoming ceremonies for Chinese President Hu Jintao on the White House lawn. She shouts out, "Pres. Bush, stop him from killing! Stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong!" just after Pres. Bush had urged China to give the Chinese people "the freedom to assemble, to speak freely, and to worship." And instead of pointing to her as an example of the priority Americans place on free speech even when its content or timing is inconvenient, Bush's concern is entirely focused on mollifying Hu so the Chinese government does not hold this appalling example of freedom against his administration.

But that is only to be expected; this is George W. Bush, after all.

That's not what makes my blood boil. This (from the AP article) is:

In a surprise outburst that cast a diplomatic shadow, a screaming protester confronted President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao and interrupted the welcoming ceremony on the White House lawn Thursday. Bush later apologized to the Chinese leader.

"President Bush, stop him from killing," the woman shouted, to the surprise of hundreds of guests spread across the lawn on a sunny, warm day. "President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong" — a banned religious movement in China.

Standing beside Bush, Hu had just begun his opening remarks when the woman started yelling in Chinese and English. Bush leaned over and whispered to Hu, "You're OK," indicating the Chinese leader should proceed. Hu, who had paused briefly, resumed speaking even though the woman kept screaming for several minutes before security officers forcibly removed her.

The woman had obtained temporary press credentials as a reporter for a Falun Gong newspaper and positioned herself on a camera stand in front of the two leaders. A cameraman tried to put his hand over her mouth before uniformed Secret Service officers hustled her away.

Outside the White House gates, hundreds of banner-waving protesters loudly demonstrated against Hu's visit. The clamor could be heard faintly during an elaborate lunch Bush gave in Hu's honor.

Chinese leaders place high importance on protocol and symbolism, and Bush moved promptly to deal with the protest on the lawn. Once they reached the Oval Office, Bush apologized to his guest.

"He just said this was unfortunate and I'm sorry it happened," said Dennis Wilder, acting senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff.

Hu was gracious in accepting Bush's apology, Wilder said. The two leaders moved on in their talks and it was not mentioned again in several hours of meetings. In what the White House described as a sign of their friendship, Hu and Bush sat next to each other at the luncheon — a departure from traditional protocol that would have them at different tables.

White House officials have worked with Chinese counterparts for months on every detail of Hu's visit. "I'm not going to stand here and tell you that they were at ease with this situation," Wilder said. "But I would be extremely surprised if the Chinese blame us for this." He said it was "a momentary blip."

The Web sites of the state-run China Central Television and the official Xinhua news agency made no mention of the protest. Both said that "Bush held a solemn ceremony to welcome" Hu.

China permits about three dozen foreign television channels to be distributed in China, mostly entertainment channels, but also CNN and the BBC among others. Their signals, however, must first pass through a state-owned monitoring center, allowing the government to black out news stories it dislikes — and it routinely does so.

The Secret Service identified the protester as Wenyi Wang, 47. Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin said she had been charged with disorderly conduct and that a charge of intimidating or disrupting foreign officials also was being considered.

"She went through all appropriate levels of security to include metal detectors and security protocols," said Jonathan Cherry, a Secret Service spokesman. Everyone who enters the White House grounds walks through a metal detector.

Mackin said she had gained access to the event with a temporary White House press pass after applying through the National Security Council press office as a reporter for the Falun Gong-affiliated newspaper, The Epoch Times.

NSC spokesman Frederick Jones said the Epoch Times was a legitimate news organization and that Wang and other reporters from the paper had attended White House events previously. He said they "never before exhibited this type of behavior."

Stephen Gregory, a spokesman for the newspaper, identified her as a doctor with a specialty in pathology, a Falun Gong practitioner based in New York. "We expected her to act as a reporter; we didn't expect her to protest. None of us had any idea that Dr. Wang was planning this," he said.

"It's hugely embarrassing," said Derek Mitchell, a former Asia adviser at the Pentagon and now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China "must know that this Bush administration is good at controlling crowds for themselves, and the fact that they couldn't control this is going to play to their worst fears and suspicions about the United States, into mistrust about American intentions toward China." [All emphasis added.]

Terence Hunt (the AP correspondent) writes that "Hu had just begun his opening remarks" without mentioning that immediately before, Pres. Bush had told the Chinese leader that China needed to give its people the right to speak freely. It was the stark contrast between Bush's advice to Hu and the response of Bush's security people to the example of free speech right up in their faces that made this incident so particularly shocking. Most egregiously, at the end, Hunt unquestioningly quotes a Republican policy wonk who bemoans Bush's failure to "control the crowd" (aka the Bush administration's notorious policy of establishing no-free-speech zones around his public appearances so that Bush does not have to see or hear anyone who disagrees with his policies); and who darkly warns that Bush's failure in this instance to do what his administration usually does so well "for themselves" will make the U.S. look bad to China.

I suspect that Hunt, as the AP's "White House correspondent," is more concerned with how this "breach" in White House press corps security might affect his own future access than with any larger issues of how the U.S. looks to China.

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