Kowtowing To The Chinese
Last year's international tour by Chinese premier, Jiang Zemin, left a trail of controversy in its wake. Jim Carey reports on how governments across the world subjugated their own people in order to keep the Chinese president grinning.
Squall Download 4, May-June 2000, pg. 10.
Strangely, it is now officially acknowledged that British police overstepped the mark in order to protect the fragile sensitivities of Chinese president, Jiang Zemin on the UK leg of his world tour last year.
Now police and politicians are arguing over who should carry the can for the draconian police measures taken against pro-Tibetan demonstrators on the streets of London and Cambridge? According to the thinly veiled accusations contained in a new report from Scotland Yard, the Foreign Office have a short term memory problem over their involvement in the sorry affair.
As the notoriously sensitive Chinese premier paraded through London and Cambridge last year, large numbers of pro-Tibetan flags and banners were confiscated whilst protestors were blocked from Zemin's sight by strategically positioned police vans. "There were countless incidents of our supporters having flags and banners confiscated or being blocked from Jiang's gaze by police vans being parked in the way. It was more like being in China than in Britain," said Alison Reynolds, director of the Free Tibet Campaign. A small minority of people carrying Chinese flags, on the other hand, remained unaccosted.
In the civil liberty outcry which ensued, the Foreign Office categorically denied it had instructed Met Police to wield a heavy hand, despite acknowledging they had conducted eight meetings with police about the visit. Jiang Zemins' entourage had already made it publicly known after similar demonstrations in Switzerland that any overtly displayed public animosity towards China in the UK would reflect badly on Sino-British relations. "Human rights demonstrators were allowed to make their point in the context of the police doing the best they could," said Foreign Office minister, John Battle. "They [the police] were not under any special instructions at all."
However, the Metropolitan Police are fuming over the way they were fingered for blame by a Foreign Office hell bent on not upsetting the Chinese or being held responsible for supressing its own citizen's right to protest. According to the Scotland Yard report handed into the Home Office in early March 2000, the draconian policing of protestors during Zemin's visit was the result of Foreign Office instructions. The report calls for all minutes of meetings between police and Foreign Office officials to be minuted in what is widely acknowledged as a firm criticism of Foreign Office attempts to distance themselves from the civil liberty clampdown.
It is widely acknowledged that the Scotland Yard report avoided a direct accusation that the Foreign Office had lied over the affair because of the political fall out likely to ensue from such an accusation in the face of Foreign Office denials. Instead, the Metropolitan Police have chosen to register their dissatisfaction by calling for the minuting of all meetings between politicians and police so that neither side can deny things they've said. Met Police also told the Sunday Telegraph that they suspected instructions on policing were coming from Bejing itself and one incident in Cambridge strengthened their accusation.
A TV camera captured a Chinese official complaining to a Foreign Office security protocol official about the arrangement of crowd barriers and photographers. The Foreign Office increased police anger by denying that the immediate rearrangement of the cordons was anything other than a Chinese official spontaneoulsy pointing out a police mistake: "The incident at Cambridge was portrayed as though a Chinese official was dictating changes to the arrangement," said a Foreign Office spokesperson. "But what really happened was that the police had made a mistake. They had accidently diverted from the pre-agreed plan and the Chinese official pointed this out"
Jiang Zemin's world tour last year left controversy in its wake largely because China's liberally distributed threats to curtail international relations if public demonstations took place. With the events in Tianneman Square closeted in the back of their minds, national governments proved keen to court China's economic clout by subjugating dissent wherever Jiang went. Following the visit to the UK at the end of last year, Zemin continued on to France where French police rounded up pro-Tibetan protesters before his visit, detaining 146 of them including eight journalists. In late February 2000, a New Zealand Parliamentary Select Committee announced an investigation to "examine the handling of demonstrations held during the State visit of the President of China to New Zealand in 1999, and the impact of those events on the civil liberties and fundamental rights of New Zealanders". During Zemin's visit to NZ (in the month prior to his arrival in the UK), Chinese officials threatened to cancel a state dinner in Christchurch unless protestors were dealt with. Once again demonstrators were either moved on quickly or blocked from Jiang's view with police buses. The chair of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, Tim Barnet, said: "Media comment on the policing of these demonstrations raised serious matters which could damage the credibility of the police and the executive if left unexamined,". He promised that the committee would "leave no stone unturned". The chances of a reasonable investigation actually occuring are increased by the presence of Nandor Tanczos, a highly active direct activist in the UK during the 80's and 90's and a recent electee to the NZ parliament as a Green MP. Tanczos is a member of the five person sub committee responsible for the investigation.
Meanwhile back in the UK, the Free Tibet Campaign has decided to sue the Metropolitan Police for their illegal handling of the protests. The first court case is due on May 3, 2000.
* Free Tibet Campaign at http://www.freetibet.org