February 4th, 2009
10:50 AM ET

If the shoe fits...

[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."]

John Vause
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.

Filed under: Global 360° • John Vause
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. LadyA

    Underestimating this action is very silly and shows the superficial evaluation of it. It shows how little the West knows about the East.
    In the world of a Muslim SHOES tread the ground, the filth, they permanently touch the dirt.
    You don't enter a house with your shoes on.
    You never step inside a mosque with your shoes on.
    When you eat do not let bread crumbs fall on the floor/ground, you desecrate the food-offer doing so.
    In the New Testament you can read that Jesus washed Mary Magdalena's feet, an act of utmost compliance.
    Throwing a shoe (smelly and dirty) at someone symbolizes an extremely contemptuous and scornful act.
    This is a very bad insult – full of hatred and disgust!

    February 4, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  2. Cori

    I love it! Shoe throwing will become the new weapon of mass destruction. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

    February 4, 2009 at 12:50 pm |
  3. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    The reporter might have been better off "throwing words" at President Bush rather than his shoes-–the power of the pen and words are mighter than the sword-–or should I say "shoe?"

    February 4, 2009 at 11:16 am |