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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Fanfare but little substance at orchestrated EU-China summit

May 23, 2009

By Tamora Vidaillet and Darren Ennis
May 22, 2009 12:39]

Reporters at a long-awaited summit between the
European Union and China in Prague Castle learnt
more about the art of stage managing set-piece
events than about the state of the EU-China relationship.

The Czech Republic, which holds the EU presidency
until the end of next month, pulled out all the
stops to ensure security was tight for
Wednesday’s fleeting visit by Chinese Premier Wen
Jiabao and a handful of ministers, who were kept
away from journalists by barriers.

Ushered into a stuffy holding room hours before
the meeting, journalists were kept from stepping
outside even for a smoke for fear of escaping
into the sprawling compound of the castle.

Outside, other aspects of the summit were
subjected to similar controls. About 60 peope
protesting against alleged Chinese abuses of
human rights were kept well away from the eyes of
Wen, who swept into the castle in a motorcade of black limousines.

Instead of letting Wen arrive to a chorus of
abuse, Chinese men in suits carefully
orchestrated a more friendly crowd of local
Chinese well-wishers who merrily waved Czech and
Chinese flags as Wen and his entourage drove by.

Once Wen’s car was safely within the sealed
confines of the castle, the men handed out
McDonald’s hamburgers to thank the crowd, which
held up two banners in Chinese declaring their love for the premier.

Back in the castle, journalists from as far
afield as Japan, Brussels, London and Paris
waited impatiently before finally getting
permission to go to what had been hailed as a news conference.

What an anti-climax. Rumours that plans to have a
question-and-answer session would be scuppered
proved true. Czech President Vaclav Klaus started
a series of scripted statements. European
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
signalled for Wen to go next, but Wen made it
clear he wanted the final word after what he
described as 20 hours of flying time to visit Prague for just a few hours.

After his long statement, there was no time left
for questions -- on issues such as human rights
or currencies -- leaving journalists wondering
why they had bothered to travel all this way.

Aides acknowledged it was more of a ceremonial,
set-piece event than a meeting of substance.
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