“This unprecedented financial crisis has inflicted a severe impact on both China and Britain as well as other European countries. The crisis has not yet hit the bottom, and it is hard to predict what further damage it may cause. To work together and tide over the difficulties has become our top priority.”
— Wen Jiabao, during his speech at Cambridge University, February 2009
The shoe landed a few feet away from Wen Jiabao. He paused for a few seconds but showed no loss of composure and with a faint smile, continued with his speech.
The Chinese Premier was on a three-day trip to Britain, focusing on talks with the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to increase trading between the two countries. While giving a speech in Cambridge University, an unidentified 27-year old man hurled a shoe at the Premier, calling him a “dictator.” Wen, who described the incident as “despicable”, was given due apologies from the University as well as from Britain. No doubt inspired by the earlier shoe-throwing incident targeting former U.S. President George W. Bush, the man was quickly led away by security, but not before he questioned, “How can you listen to the lies he is telling?”
The Premier’s visit was notable for its mixed reception. He was feted by the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and was welcomed with an honor guard. At the same time, his duration of stay was punctuated by protests and demonstrations concerned with Tibet and human rights. But these obstacles have not dampened Wen’s enthusiasm to further ties with Britain. He, along with Brown, presented a planned expansion of bilateral trade as a message to the world that free trade rather than protectionism will combat the current economic crisis. Brown noted that the Chinese government’s fat stimulus package will help lead the world out of recession. In addition, he set a target of doubling British exports to China in the next 18 months from $11 billion to $14.4 billion.
For a country that is sensitive about the image of its leaders, the incident came as an outrage. Yet, displaying uncharacteristic openness, China’s media aired a video of the confrontation. This might well be interpreted as an appeal to China’s patriotism, as Wen emerged a hero after last year’s devastating earthquake. All things told, Wen’s visit was hailed a success, emphasizing the need for cooperation, confidence and responsibility. Bravo.
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