BEIJING – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is asking Britain's Cambridge University to pardon a student who threw a shoe at him during his speech there earlier this month.
The Feb. 2 incident prompted an outraged response from the Chinese government and stirred indignation among many ordinary Chinese, who saw it as an affront to national pride.
"It is hoped that the university will give the student an opportunity to continue his studies at the university," Wen was quoted as saying by China's ambassador in London, Fu Ying, in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry's Web site.
"It is hoped that this student will see his mistake and seek to understand a real and developing China," Wen added, according to the statement posted over the weekend and reported in Chinese newspapers Monday.
The student was arrested by Cambridge police following the incident and questioned on suspicion of committing a public order offense. The official China Daily newspaper identified him as Martin Jahnke, a 27-year-old pathology student originally from Germany.
Like the now-famous incident when an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush in December, the gray athletic shoe missed its intended target.
Jahnke's motivations were not immediately clear, although he punctuated his throw by shouting: "How can this university prostitute itself with this dictator here, how can you listen ... to him unchallenged?"
A calm and collected Wen continued with his comments after the protester was removed, calling the shoe throwing a "dirty trick" but saying it would have no effect on China-Britain relations.
Such acts of protest are virtually unknown in China, where the leadership rules from behind high walls in a central Beijing compound and all public appearances are carefully planned and tightly scripted. China's authoritarian communist system tolerates little dissent and routinely metes out long prison sentences to people merely for writing critical essays on the Internet.
After hesitating for hours, Chinese state television ran a full report on the incident, widely seen as a sign of greater openness. Potential embarrassments to the Communist leadership are usually ignored by state media, but the Internet and satellite television have made it increasingly difficult to suppress bad news for long.
The broadcast and accompanying reports also appear to be a successful appeal to Chinese patriotism.
Fu said Jahnke had apologized in writing for the incident and said the university was dealing with it "in all seriousness," according to the statement on the Foreign Ministry site.