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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Freedom or disrespect? Norman's protest debated

June 24, 2010

By Michael Dickison
NZ Hearald (New Zealand)
June 23, 2010

Representatives of New Zealand's Chinese
community and a pro-Tibetan group are at odds
over whether Russel Norman's protest at
Parliament last week showed a lack of respect or demonstrated enviable freedom.

The Green Party co-leader was caught in a scuffle
with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's security
when he approached the delegation while waving a
Tibetan flag last Friday at Parliament.

Prime Minister John Key later apologised to the
delegation, an act Dr Norman said was "degrading".

nzherald.co.nz readers have reacted strongly to
the incident, contributing more than 200 comments
since yesterday. Views have been split between
those who say New Zealand should not have to
apologise for a peaceful protest and others who
criticised Dr Norman as rudely trying to intimidate a guest dignitary.

New Zealand Chinese Association national
president Steven Young said many in the Chinese
community considered Dr Norman to have "taken
advantage of his privileged position" and he had
not given enough weight to his responsibilities as an MP.

"The Chinese community, especially the part of
the community that has been here a long time and
grown up here, they fully understand the
importance of freedom of speech. That's accepted," Mr Young said.

"At the same time, Chinese people generally think
it's quite important to treat guests and visitors with respect," he said.

Dr Norman had greater privileges and
responsibilities as an MP but had not behaved
"how a Member of Parliament ought to", Mr Young said.

Dr Norman had overstepped the mark in the way he
carried out his protest, he said.

But most in the Chinese community would not be
surprised at the Green Party co-leader's protest
and it had been a storm in a teacup, he said.

Friends of Tibet national chairman Thuten Kesang
said the Chinese delegation should have known Dr
Norman would protest, their security had
overreacted by not simply walking past.

"Here is a man going to be one of the most
powerful people in the world, yet he can't walk
with his face held up in front of a flag," Mr Kesang said.

"It's not a threat to the Chinese vice president
by shouting at him ... seeing a flag was enough for pain, in their eyes."

Respect went both ways, and the delegation should
have respected the sovereignty of New Zealand, he said.

"The sovereignty of this nation was violated by
letting their men attack one of our MPs. Respect goes two ways."

Mr Kesang said there were many in the wider New
Zealand Chinese community who recognised that Dr
Norman would be in prison had he conducted his protest in China.

"They know how lucky they are to be in this
beautiful country with our freedoms."

China and New Zealand Business Council chairwoman
Linda Zhang said Dr Norman's protest "could
potentially undermine an increasingly close
friendship between the two countries".

"Russel Norman's behaviour during the Chinese
Vice President's visit at parliament was a bit over the top," Ms Zhang said.

She said his protest had overshadowed an
otherwise constructive visit, and commended Mr Key's apology.

"I think our PM's response to this incident was
totally appropriate and graceful, it showed his
respect to our country's guests and his sincerity
to the Chinese people. It should not be
misinterpreted as 'degrading'. I felt touched by his response."

The "unpleasant incident" would not be a hurdle
for the continuing development of friendship
between New Zealand and China, she said.

New Zealand China Trade Association executive
director David Catty said the association was
confident that the incident would not have a
detrimental effect on China New Zealand trade or overall relations.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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