[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/europe/02/03/china.uk.shoe.thrower.court/art.jpg caption="The shoe landed several meters from Wen Jiabao."]
CNN Asia Correspondent
In diplomacy, you never really know what might come back to haunt you. Last month, after U.S. President George Bush ducked a flying shoe during a surprise visit to Baghdad, there was this exchange at the regular Foreign Ministry briefing in Beijing with spokesman Liu Jianchao:
MOFA briefing Dec 16th 2008, Spokesman Liu Jianchao
Q: U.S. President George Bush's visit to Iraq has been overshadowed by an incident in which a pair of shoes was thrown at him by an Iraqi reporter during a news conference. How do you comment? Also, many of our interviewees in Beijing said they were not surprised, that the incident happened because the U.S. has been too aggressive. How do you feel about this?
A: People may have different opinions, but a state leader should be treated with due respect. This also reminds me of one thing, next time I should watch out for not only who are raising their hands, but also who are untying their shoelaces. (Laughter)
It got a pretty good laugh at the time, as noted in the official transcript.
Chinese officials though have a much different take after a shoe was thrown at Premier Wen Jiabao at Cambridge University. On Tuesday, at the same regular briefing, my colleague from the BBC asked why the Bush incident was worthy of a good chuckle, yet the Wen protest was "despicable behavior," even though it was essentially the same act.
The less-than-humorous spokesperson Jiang Yu, with a very straight face thought for a moment and replied:
"Both our comments are proper."
And that was it. Not so much a verbal duck as a brick wall.
State-controlled media did struggle for a while before knowing just how to report the latest shoe protest. At first it was referred to a "disturbance" but then eventually the incident made it on to CCTV, complete with video of the shoe. Mind you, I lost count of the number of times the Bush shoe assault went to air on CCTV.
It could be a major breakthrough for free reporting and real news, but the reality is, the video was already out there – on the Internet and other places. The blogs here, often seen as the best forum for free speech, have had a mixed reaction – some have denounced the shoe thrower, with calls for the infamous human flesh search engines to find out who he is (for more flesh search engines check out my story from December 16 last year), while others have praised the protest. All in all a pretty good mix of opinions – maybe the real breakthrough in China will come when the Foreign Ministry can have a laugh, as well.
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