Greens Claim Presiding Officers ‘Kowtowed’ To Chinese President

Following last Thursday’s parliamentary address by President Bush, during which Senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle interjected, the Greens have objected to their treatement at the hands of the parliament’s presiding officers during yesterday’s address by China’s President Hu Jintao.

The Greens senators have been on the receiving end of considerable media criticism following their performance during Bush’s speech, but the strong-arm tactics of the Chinese will unsettle many.

A report by Steve Lewis in The Australian today claims that the Chinese President threatened not to deliver his speech unless he was guaranteed a silent reception. Lewis paints a picture of frantic last-minute activity as Hu arrived at Parliament House:

Just before 9.30am yesterday, the Foreign Minister of China, Li Zhaoxing, pulled up at Parliament House in his chauffeur-driven limousine.

He headed straight for the office of Neil Andrew, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

One of China’s most influential political operatives had made the short drive from the five-star Hyatt Hotel to deliver a personal message from Chinese President Hu Jintao – a message that threatened a diplomatic crisis.

Hu was due to address the parliament at 10am. But there was a hitch.

Hu was concerned the Greens would repeat Thursday’s dramatic interruption of George W.Bush’s speech. The Chinese had carefully scrutinised the list of “guests” invited by each member and senator and noted the names of several dissidents including Chin Jin, chairman of the Federation for a Democratic China.

While the US President had dismissed the Greens’ protest as proof of a vibrant democracy, the Chinese were not as charitable.

According to well-placed sources, the English-speaking Li signalled that Hu would not proceed with his parliamentary address unless assurances could be given that it would not be disrupted.

A crisis of unthinkable proportion was playing out before Andrew and the other presiding officer for the parliament, Senate President Paul Calvert.

The extraordinary action – to threaten to jettison Hu’s historic address to a joint sitting of the national parliament – was typical of the strong-arm tactics the Chinese have displayed over the past few weeks, as they sought to suppress any form of protest or criticism of the Hu visit.

Andrew and Calvert, whose largely ceremonial role was to escort the Chinese President to the parliamentary chamber, had no time to waste.

They provided Li with the best assurances they could that the three “guests” of the Greens – Chin and two Canberra-based Tibetans – would be barred from entering the public galleries.

Instead, they had assigned the three Greens’ guests to the glassed-in chamber which normally houses groups of visiting school children.

The Chinese, so successful at suppressing freedom of speech in their homeland, had convinced the Australian parliament to do the same.

The several hundred guests who were being ushered to their seats – plus most of the 200-plus MPs and senators who had been transported back to Canberra for the visits of Bush and Hu – were mostly unaware of the high-stakes diplomatic game taking place behind closed doors.

Neither did Chin, nor the the local Tibetans until they tried to enter the public galleries.

They were whisked up behind the glass on the school deck after frantic calls between harried Chinese security personnel and staff of the Speaker’s office.

Eventually, Hu arrived late at the parliament, waiting for assurances from his Foreign Minister that his speech would be heard in respectful silence.

Also arriving late was the President’s wife, Hu Liu. She did not take her seat – at the front of the public gallery – until John Howard had begun his brief introductory remarks to the Chinese President. It was perhaps the most noticeable public sign of the frantic behind-the-scenes jostling that had gone on.

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Text of a statement released today by Greens Senator Bob Brown.

Presiding Officers’ Cowardice to Hu: Greens Demand Inquiry

When Parliament’s presiding officers (Speaker of the House of Representatives Neil Andrew and President of the Senate Paul Calvert) took orders from President Hu to expel legitimate visitors from the public gallery and to police Greens MP Michael Organ in the chamber for Friday’s speech, it was a shameful buckling of democracy to dictatorship, Greens Senator Bob Brown said today.

“This insipid kowtow to China’s Communist dictatorship will be referred to the Privileges Committee. The running of Parliament must never be dictated from outside, most of all by foreign powers. The joint sitting was delayed, (the bells rang for 10 minutes) while Mr Andrew and Mr Calvert subjugated the parliament to China’s demands,” Senator Brown said.

“The Prime Minister must explain to Australia how these officers were so easily derailed from their duty to ensure that no external influences determine parliament’s rule.

The removal of the Greens’ guests (Democratic China group’s chairman, Mr Chin Jin and Tibetans Dhondup Phun Tsok and Tsering Deki Tshoko) from the public gallery at President Hu’s demand was an act of cowardice by the presiding officers.

“It matches the obsequious failure by both Mr Howard and Mr Crean to mention either human rights or Tibet in their speeches.”

“The inquiry should encompass the demands to the Speaker by President Hu before his speech, the preceding night’s demands by Hu’s entourage, the presence in the Parliament of armed Chinese security agents and any last minute changes to arrangements in the House to satisfy China’s demands.” Senator Brown said.

The Senate sits again on Monday.

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