Predictably, there are different responses emerging to the Russel Scuffle outside parliament on Friday.
John Key says it’s “disappointing”. Murray McCully on Q & A this morning blamed Russel Norman. Others on the panel said it was “bad manners.”
Phil Goff defended the right of New Zealanders to protest at parliament saying : “We expect people to be respectful to our visitors, but we also retain the right to protest peacefully.”
Dr Jian Yang From Auckland University says Chinese security handled the incident badly and created even more publicity, which distracted from the visit itself. He said that it was quite a typical reaction from China to protests overseas and there have been similar cases in other places.
The Chinese are saying something different. Here’s the response from a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry who called the incident “a demonstrator’s harassment of a Chinese delegation….” :
“At the invitation of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping paid an official visit to New Zealand starting on June 17. He was warmly welcomed and well received by the government and people of New Zealand. The visit yielded positive results.
When the delegation arrived at the entrance of the parliament building in Wellington Friday noon, it was hostilely harassed by a New Zealand demonstrator within close distance.
The demonstrator’s behaviour posed a threat to the security and dignity of the delegation, and far exceeded the boundaries of the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
Such an attempt to spoil the atmosphere of Xi’s visit and damage the Sino-New Zealand relationship is doomed to fail. It also runs against the common wish of both Chinese people and New Zealanders to enhance bilateral friendship, he added.
New Zealand has apologised to the Chinese side for the incident.”
It is not the first time attempts have been made to shut NZ protests against China down. The most famous was in 1999, when protesters were blocked by a bus as the Chinese president arrived at an APEC summit in Christchurch. And it’s not the first time an MP has used their parliamentary access to protest – I’m thinking here about Shane Ardern on his tractor “Myrtle” driving up parliament’s steps.
I get the argument about bad manners, particularly once you have a look at Norman’s rather pathetic “gimme back my flag” on TV. Chris Trotter has waded into the argument, saying that while Russel Norman exercised his rights, he wasn’t sure he exercised his responsibility, given the importance of New Zealand’s relationship with China.
However, I’m far from convinced that China always needs to take such huge offence at any protest or difference of opinion it comes across in other countries.
I don’t pretend to understand the cultural differences, but there are different views about issues like Tibet and Taiwan – even among the citizens of those countries themselves. And there is a Falun Dafa group in New Zealand who are always protesting.
So when Chinese delegations visit other countries, perhaps they just need to chill a little?