Leader of the unfree world is feted by the Queen as protesters arrested

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ceremonially speaking, President Jiang Zemin, the first Chinese head of state to visit Britain, was yesterday given the full monty.

Ceremonially speaking, President Jiang Zemin, the first Chinese head of state to visit Britain, was yesterday given the full monty.

A public greeting from the Queen was followed by an inspection of the guard and a carriage trip down the Mall, with Union Jacks and red flags fluttering harmoniously in the breeze.

To thousands of tourists the ceremony was sheer spectacle. To pro-democracy groups and Free Tibet campaigners, it was an affront to human rights.

For Jiang, what was, in part, a change of digs, from the Hyde Park Hotel to Buckingham Palace, signalled a rise in international standing.

At the luxury Hyde Park, where Jiang spent Monday night, police evoked Royal Parks regulations to move 50 protesters out of sight, as the president arrived. But 200 flag-waving supporters were allowed to remain.

The Chinese leader got just the reception he had ordered though that necessitated the arrest of two veterans of Tiananmen Square and a Tibetan student.

The move to the palace, via the Mall, conveniently meant Royal Parks' regulations still applied. So officers combed the crowds, confiscating flags and banners.

Yesterday's warning from Beijing that protests could undermine diplomatic relations - reinforcing Jiang's own message in Switzerland earlier this year that protests there had cost his friendship - was unnecessary. Britain is clearly more determined to be chummy.

Even in nearby Downing Street, where devotees of Falun Gong, the religion banned by China, mounted a peaceful protest of meditation exercises, police took no chances. Half a dozen officers watched lest, presumably, the exercising got out of hand.

"There is not much difference between China and Britain at the moment," said Elizabeth Lewis, a Free Tibet protester.

"Basically it's sit down and shut up. But I suppose that if the government only wants Chinese money it has to sell its soul."

Despite the clampdown, two protesters broke through metal barriers as the carriage, carrying the Queen and Jiang, approached the palace end of the Mall. But officers quickly brought them down.

Beneath the statue of a dour Queen Victoria, protesters, led by China's most famous political prisoner, Wei Jinsheng, mingled with tourists and tried to spring a surprise.

First they were surrounded by a crowd of pro Chinese supporters and swamped in a sea of red flags.

As the carriage approached the protesters tried to unfurl two banners. The pro-Chinese jostled and British police moved in like reinforcements. Wei, who says he hopes the British public will now question the depth of their own democracy, was bundled off.

As the carriage passed it is doubtful Jiang even noticed. Few tourists were aware. And those that were hardly bothered.

As a policeman ploughed into the crowd, an Australian woman - a republican, desperate for a shot of "Liz" - shouted: "Oh great, a space."

Though some of yesterday's large pro-China support was almost certainly orchestrated, there were also plenty of ordinary Chinese hostile to the dissidents. A group of young Chinese lecturers, studying in Britain, insisted that the dissidents hatred of Jiang was not shared by most Chinese.

An angry Fu Beng, 30, said the British media's coverage of the visit was biased. Her friend Xiao Xiaoyan, 30, said that she too had protested at Tiananmen, but now understood China needed stability.