MP's Tibet protest flag removed

Last updated 22:54 18/06/2010
 Russel Norman
DON SCOTT
PROTEST STIFLED: Green co-leader Russel Norman said he believed his Tibetan flag was torn from his hands by one of the vice president's security guards.
PARLIAMENT VISIT: Around 30 pro-Chinese government supporters were on site to welcome the second-most powerful man in their country.
MICHAEL FOX/Stuff.co.nz
PARLIAMENT VISIT: Around 30 pro-Chinese government supporters were on site to welcome the second-most powerful man in their country.
Xi Jinping
JOHN SELKIRK
CHEERS: Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping makes a toast in Auckland yesterday during a lunch held by the Government.

Political Tussle

Chinese manhandling history

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Police have found insufficient evidence to substantiate claims Green Party co-leader Russel Norman was assaulted during the arrival of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at Parliament.

Photographs clearly showed Dr Norman being grabbed by Chinese security personnel travelling with the vice president at Parliament this afternoon while the Green MP protested the visit by waving a Tibetan flag.

Wellington City Area Police Commander, Inspector Peter Cowan, said police had investigated the complaint but didn't find enough evidence to lay charges.

"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,"  Inspector Cowan said.

"Within the timeframes available to us police have decided there is insufficient evidence to substantiate any assault charges at this time."

Inspector Cowan said police will continue with inquiries over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key says an "altercation" between Dr Norman and Chinese security personnel is "disappointing" but says it is too early to say if the Chinese government should apologise.

Mr Key told reporters this afternoon it was disappointing that the incident might overshadow the vice-president's visit and said it was too early for him to say if an apology was due.

He had not seen film footage of the incident so could not comment on whether the force used by Chinese security personnel was disproportionate.  That was for police to decide, along with Parliament's Speaker, he said.

And while Mr Key valued the relationship with China, he also valued freedom of speech and the rights of New Zealanders and MPs to make their opinions known to others, he said.

It was a "sad incident" given that the visit up till today had been "very successful", Mr Key said.

He hoped that the strong relationship with China and the vice president - who was a "very important person" - was not tainted by a "one off incident".

Labour leader Phil Goff said after a meeting with Mr Xi that the vice president had "acknowledged" the incident with Dr Norman.

Mr Goff said he had explained the right to protest was an important one in New Zealand and the vice president said he was aware of that and had been prepared for it.

He had not seen the footage but it was wrong for foreign security to take such action while in New Zealand.

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VIP'S ARRIVAL QUICKLY TURNS CHAOTIC

Arriving in a convoy of around six vehicles with a police escort, the guards initially tried to shield the flag with their bodies and umbrellas before it was torn from Dr Norman's hand with a member of the vice president's entourage standing on it as the VIP was rushed through the front entrance of Parliament.

"I think it's pretty outrageous that Chinese security can come to our country and push around an elected Member of Parliament simply because you're standing up for democracy and freedom in our own country on our own parliamentary grounds," Dr Norman said afterwards.

"I mean, the Chinese security guards, they elbowed me out of the way, they put an umbrella over the top of me and they took the flag out of my hands and trampled on it."

Dr Norman said he had complained to police "because New Zealanders need to know they are free to speak without fear of violence or recrimination”.

The Government needed to defend the right of its citizens to free speech because it was one of the cornerstones of democracy.

"I'm asking that John Key make a clear statement that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable in New Zealand," Dr Norman said.

Speaker Lockwood Smith has also said he would investigate the incident.

With some blood on his hand following the scuffle, Dr Norman said he had never experienced such treatment on Parliament's grounds. He believed it was one of the vice president's security guards.
 
"We were roughed up, they grabbed us and pushed us around."
 
He said he was pushed when he tried to grab the flag back.

Around 30 pro-Chinese government supporters were on site to welcome the second-most powerful man in their country.

"Don't bring your undemocratic processes to our country," Dr Norman had told the Chinese VIPs.

After meeting the vice president, Speaker Lockwood Smith said he would investigate the incident but had not seen it.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic incident appears to have forced a change in the venue for a meeting with Labour leader Phil Goff.

Mr Goff's office confirmed that a scheduled meeting at Parliament between him and the Chinese Vice President had been moved to the Hotel InterContinental.

A spokesman said the change in venue had been advised by the Visits and Ceremonial Office but they had been given no reason for the switch.

VIP TREATMENT

Relations between China and New Zealand had so far on this trip been at an all-time high, with Prime Minister John Key "pulling out all the stops" for Mr Xi's visit.

Last night Mr Key was host at a dinner held for the Vice President at Government House in Auckland.

Mr Xi's visit yesterday included his first public speech to a major business audience in New Zealand.

Mr Key said Mr Xi's visit was part of an important exercise in diplomacy.

"Our understanding is that there is a very good chance that Xi Jinping is going to be a potential future president of China," he said.

"In the pecking order, he is right up there to replace President Hu."

Mr Key rearranged his schedule to meet Mr Xi. He was forced to use an air force plane to make it to Auckland in time from a visit to Bay of Plenty.

"We're definitely pulling out all the stops," he said.

Mr Xi is meeting all New Zealand's top elected officials during his three-day visit. There will be further talks with Mr Key this morning, followed by lunch with Deputy Prime Minister Bill English at Premier House in Wellington. Mr Xi will also meet Speaker Lockwood Smith and have talks with Labour leader Phil Goff today.

Mr Xi, who is travelling with about 120 Chinese businesspeople, told an audience in Auckland that he wanted to elevate bilateral relations.

A summary of his translated speech said there had been frequent exchanges of high-level visits and the economies of the two countries were highly complementary "with huge potentials in economic and trade co-operation".

Mr Xi proposed a four-point plan, the first focusing on New Zealand's rich resources and its advanced science and technology.

China had large markets and cheap labour.

"So the two countries can put the improvement of economic and trade quality as their future focus." The two could also increase co-operation in new energy, environment, biological technology and high and new technologies.

Trade Minister Tim Groser said China had played a major role in sheltering New Zealand from the full impact of a global recession.

"I believe that more and more New Zealanders understand this and very much appreciate the contribution China is making to our own economy and society," he said.

Mr Norman earlier said the top-level visit would add pressure from China to win approval for a bid to buy thousands of hectares of dairy farm land from the Crafar family.

But Mr Key said the Overseas Investment Office, which must approve the bid, was independent.

"There is no correlation between this trip and the desire by the Chinese consortium to buy the Crafar farms."

This year China became New Zealand's second-largest trading partner, overtaking the United States and Japan after the signing of a free-trade deal between the two countries in 2008.

In the year to April, the deal sparked an $860 million boost in Kiwi exports to China.

WHO IS XI JINPING?

The top-ranking member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China; the country's Vice President; principal of the Central Party School; and the 6th ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee.

Mr Xi, 57, was put in charge of preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and is the top Chinese figure in Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

His father, Xi Zhong, was a major figure in the 1920s Communist Party.

Mr Xi was named as one of the most influential people in the world in the 2009 Time 100 list. He is married to Chinese folk singer Peng Liyuan, his second wife.

Recent business has included, on May 19, a meeting with Gennady Zyuganov, chairman of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party. New Zealand is his third stop on a four-nation tour, which includes Australia, Bangladesh and Laos.

- By MICHAEL FOX, JOHN HARTEVELT and MICHAEL FIELD

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