For a week I've waited to see if any media commentators would pick up on the matter, but since no one has I’m going to have a go. And no, it’s not about the gossip columnist who went “undercover” to get alongside Mick Jagger.
My thoughts were about the well-managed press conference outside the White House 10 days ago with China’s president Hu Jintao and George W Bush in attendance. Well managed that is, until it went haywire.
As any observer knows, such events taken months of planning and the nuances of protocol are very important. Every word is scrutinised before and after for subtext and sur-text, every gesture analysed for some deeper or metaphoric meaning.
Nothing is left to chance either before or after the phot opp, and you’d love to know just how many hands the speeches actually go through before they are read aloud.
So that event was always going to be as much about what wasn’t said as what was.
Then suddenly someone said something unexpected -- and pointed out the elephant in the room.
That someone was journalist Wang Wenyi who yelled at Hu that evil people die young and that his time was running out. "Anything you have done will come back to you in this lifetime", she shrieked.
Wang is a Falun Gong practitioner and her yelling -- which went on for almost three minutes -- was prompted by her anger at the repression, torture and murder of Falun Gong practitioners in China. She also berated Bush for his silence on the matter.
Wang writes for The Epoch Times which as even the most casual Sinologist knows rails regularly against human rights abuses in China -- some might say that’s all it does -- and has been very strong in its support of Falun Gong.
She could hardly have been unknown to American security personnel.
That said, a spokesman for The Epoch Times said she had previously attended White House events in her role as a journalist and had “never before exhibited this type of behaviour."
Another spokesman said, "We expected her to act as a reporter; we didn't expect her to protest. None of us had any idea that Dr. Wang was planning this."
I guess she’d just had a gutsful of the oppression, and the hypocrisy of people being nice to the guy she fingered as colluding in it.
Even a cursory reading of Falun Gong literature -- and the increasing number of independent human rights reports confirming practitioners are being imprisoned, tortured and killed, and maybe even having their internal organs harvested while still alive -- is enough to outrage any thinking citizen.
What struck me about that incident -- which of course was not screened on television back home in China -- was Bush’s subsequent comments.
Given that every word is weighed, it was interesting that he pressed home the point -- despite his discomfort at the interruption and an apology to Hu -- that China should expand the freedoms for people to assemble, speak freely and to worship.
That message -- and yes, we know it is a refrain of his along with victory being in sight or whatever -- could have gone unuttered, could have been edited out beforehand because of its sensitivity, could have been pushed aside for the greater message of “free trade” and "co-operation".
But it wasn’t. The bugger just came right out and said what needs to be said: China is a repressive place.
That seems an important point to have not shied away from, especially when commanding the world stage.
I didn’t get the impression that when Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was here a couple of weeks before that any of our leaders so publicly made that important point.
Among the Chinese delegation accompanying Wen was Bo Xilai, the Chinese Minister of Commerce who has been sued (by Falun Gong refugees) for genocide in seven countries including the States, Britain, Poland and Germany. He was the governor of Liaoning province from 2001 to 2004 and during that time it is alleged he supervised the campaign of persecution against Falun Gong practitioners which resulted in a number of deaths (some say the figure reaches into the hundreds).
Local Falun Gong members asked that Bo be banned from entering the country, but he came and Helen Clark said that while she would raise human rights concerns the focus of the visit would be on free trade.
Dunno about you, but I saw no public comment by anyone in government about China’s abysmal human rights record during that visit at all. But the refrain of “free trade” hung heavy in the air, drowning out everything else.
Four agreements were signed: one to strengthen cultural ties in arts, culture, heritage, sport, archives, broadcasting and tourism; a treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters for greater co-operation between law enforcement authorities; a Deer Protocol (signed by the ministers responsible for food safety, always a big issue of course); and a Memorandum of Understanding on co-operation in education and training.
Our prime minister also announced that we would participate in the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
All this is important stuff -- China is New Zealand’s fourth-largest trading partner and accounts for almost 5.5 per cent of our total exports -- and dialogue should be encouraged.
But maybe we also needed someone -- other than local Falun Gong members and sympathizers well away from the frontline -- to point out the obvious: there was an elephant in the room.