UNDER Communist Party rule, the Chinese people have made friends all over the world, or so the relentlessly employed party slogan goes. The people of China, indeed, have many true friends -- certainly more than their government, which is all too happy to rely on foreigners kowtowing before its considerable weight.
The world recently got a look at how that can play out shamefully in -- of all places -- Iceland, where Chinese leader Jiang Zemin visited last weekend.
Tiny Iceland, a wealthy, tranquil place, boasts an admirable history of democracy and free speech, dating back to the founding of the world's oldest parliament in 930. But these traditions were put on hold in the days leading to Mr. Jiang's visit.
Fearful that anti-China demonstrations by supporters of the Falun Gong movement would upset the formal state visit, authorities temporarily detained some of the group's followers and turned back others from boarding Icelandair flights in U.S. and European cities. Icelandic police even manned the gates at some foreign airports, screening out potential protesters.
Falun Gong -- whose followers practice meditation and exercise according to various Buddhist and Taoist beliefs as prescribed by their leader, Li Hongzhi -- was banned by China in 1999; the Chinese government labels it an "evil cult" and persecutes its followers. The group has no history of violence.
But with no military and only a small police force, Icelandic officials feared Falun Gong would exploit Iceland's "vulnerability" and "turn a state visit into something else," explains Gudni Bragason, deputy chief of mission at Iceland's Washington Embassy. "We cannot allow any official event in Iceland to be hijacked by a foreign movement."
Iceland eased up by the time the Chinese leader arrived, allowing about 500 Falun Gong supporters to hold the nation's largest protest in recent memory. Though not originally planned that way, the peaceful demonstration was aimed at human rights abuses in both China and Iceland.
This wasn't the only protest that Mr. Jiang encountered in his swing through Iceland and three Baltic states. Lithuania tried to have it both ways -- with its police aggressively curtailing some demonstrators for Tibet's freedom, while its president and other political leaders swiftly apologized to the protesters and cast the incident as a black mark on their country.
Unresolved is how Icelandic authorities knew to bar certain potential protesters who claim there is no public record of their Falun Gong ties. Icelandic officials insist they acted independently, with no pressure or guidance from China.
Nonetheless, this is a sad tale of how easy it is to succumb to Chinese pressure, however indirect, particularly when your nation has fewer than 300,000 residents and a growing trade with the world's most populous nation.
Mr. Bragason justifies Iceland's actions as necessary, adding it would do the same for any other head of state, including a U.S. president. "We didn't want to get bullied by Falun Gong," he says. Trouble is, Iceland ended up getting bullied by China instead.