What Shoe? China Censors News of Attack on Premier

China's foreign ministry and media on Tuesday denounced a man who hurled his shoe at the country's premier and called him a dictator on a visit to Britain — all while avoiding explicit descriptions of the protest itself.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called the disruption of Premier Wen Jiabao's speech "despicable" during a press conference but said it would not "stem the tide of friendly relations between China and Britain." She didn't mention shoes.

Unlike the now-famous incident when an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush in December, covered widely not only in China but around the world, state-run newspapers and Web sites in China carried stories on Wen's speech but did not directly mention the shoe-throwing.

China's state-run CCTV network reported Foreign Ministry comments, which acknowledged a "disturbance" during the speech, but made no mention a shoe had been thrown at Wen.

The official Xinhua News Agency issued a story saying that Britain apologized for an incident and that China had "expressed its strong feelings against the occurrence of the incident." However, it did not say what the incident was.

China keeps a tight grip on its media, blocking any content deemed as a challenge or insulting to the ruling Communist Party or the country's leaders.

In the live broadcast of the speech on CCTV's Web site, the camera remains fixed on Wen, not showing the shoe or the protester, although his remarks and the sound of the shoe hitting the stage can be heard. Wen pauses, glances sideways as the shoe hits the stage, and then continues his speech.

"Teachers and students, this kind of dirty trick cannot stop the friendship between the Chinese and the British people," Wen said, followed by applause.

China also monitors and censors the Internet though because of the sheer volume of the country's online content — the country has 298 million Web users — it's harder to control than the media.

Many comments concerning Wen's shoe incident had been deleted from bulletin boards and chat rooms Tuesday. Those that remained were nationalistic in tone.

"The uncompromising Iraqi people threw a shoe at Bush which is a brave act by a suppressed nation," said one comment on the tiexue.net bulletin board. "But the ugly Englishman threw a shoe at Wen, which was only a barbaric trick."

The shoe-throwing incident came at the end of Wen's a three-day visit to Britain that was dogged by demonstrations over human rights and Chinese policy in Tibet. Wen returned to Beijing Tuesday.

The protester leapt from his seat near the back of a crowded auditorium at Cambridge University, blew a whistle and yelled that Wen was a "dictator" before throwing a shoe toward the stage.

"How can this university prostitute itself with this dictator here, how can you listen ... to him unchallenged," the man shouted.

Security staff escorted the young man, who was not Chinese, from the auditorium. He was arrested and the BBC said he would appear before magistrates on Feb. 10 in Cambridge on charges of committing a public order offense.

The shoe missed its target, and one of Wen's aides quietly stepped on stage, picked up the shoe and took it away.