By Jason Dean
China’s government has finally offered its side of the story of Friday’s scuffle between New Zealand legislator Russel Norman and members of visiting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s delegation.
New Zealand’s Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman displays Tibetan National Flag outside the Parliament. Norman was later assaulted by Chinese security personnel as he was making a stand against China’s human rights record in Tibet. The mistreatment of Norman on the grounds of Parliament by Chinese security personnel shows how important it is to stand up for democracy and human rights, the Green Party said yesterday after the incident. (Photo: Scoop.co.nz)
Shockingly, Beijing doesn’t see things quite the same way as the Green Party co-leader.
Norman said he was “assaulted” while protesting China’s Tibet policies as Xi’s group entered a New Zealand parliamentary building. On Saturday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman described the incident this way, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency: “When [Xi's] 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 behavior 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.”
The spokesman called the protest “an attempt to spoil the atmosphere of Xi’s visit” and said it was “doomed to fail.” Xinhua said New Zealand has apologized to China for the incident, though that couldn’t immediately be verified.
The Xinhua report said nothing about the actions of the Chinese delegation. Whether Norman’s actions exceeded the boundaries of the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as understood by New Zealanders, and whether Norman’s purported threat to the “dignity of the delegation” is relevant to a decision by members of that delegation to physically confront an elected representative of a foreign country on that country’s soil, will probably continue to be debated.
But Norman also isn’t getting backup for his version of events from New Zealand police.
In a statement late Friday, police in the Kiwi capital said a preliminary report on the incident found “there is insufficient evidence tonight to substantiate an allegation of assault,” as made by Norman.
“Police have spoken to a number of people who witnessed the incident, reviewed available footage, and approached the Chinese delegation who declined to comment with information that might assist the inquiry,” the statement quoted Peter Cowan, Wellington city area police commander, as saying. “Within the timeframes available to us police have decided there is insufficient evidence to substantiate any assault charges at this time.”
The statement said police would continue making inquiries over the weekend, but “will be making no further comment.”