US president George Bush apologised to Chinese president Hu Jintao for a protest during an elaborate welcoming ceremony on the White House lawn.
The protester interrupted yesterday’s Washington ceremony by shouting to Bush to stop the Chinese president from “persecuting the Falun Gong”.
Bush later spoke of the matter at a meeting with Hu in the Oval Office.
“He just said this was unfortunate and I’m sorry it happened,” said Dennis Wilder, acting senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff.
Wilder said Hu was gracious in accepting Bush’s apology. The two leaders moved on in their talks and it was not mentioned again in several hours of meetings.
Hu and Bush sat next to each other at an elaborate luncheon – a departure from traditional protocol, which would have had them at different tables.
Chinese leaders place high importance on symbolism and protocol. White House officials have worked with Chinese counterparts for months on every detail of Hu’s visit.
“I would be extremely surprised if the Chinese blamed us for this,” Wilder said.
The woman began shouting from the top of a camera stand that had been erected in front of the two leaders on the South Lawn.
The Secret Service identified her as Wang Wenyi, 47.
Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin said Wang had been charged with disorderly conduct and a separate charge of intimidating or disrupting foreign officials was also being considered.
Mackin said Wang had gained access to the event with a temporary White House pass and had been cleared through all the appropriate levels of security.
Stephen Gregory, a spokesman for the Falun Gong-affiliated newspaper The Epoch Times, said she had received a press credential through the newspaper. He identified her as a doctor specialising in pathology, a Falun Gong practitioner based in New York.
Falun Gong, a spiritual movement based in China, is banned by the Chinese government as a dangerous cult.
As President Hu began speaking, Wang shouted in Chinese and in heavily-accented English: “President Bush, stop him from killing” and “President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong”.
Bush, standing next to Hu, leaned over and whispered to him, “You’re OK,” indicating the Chinese leader should proceed with his opening remarks. Hu, who had paused briefly when the shouting began, resumed speaking.
The protester was waving a banner with the red and yellow colours used by Falun Gong.
She continued shouting for several minutes before Secret Service agents were able to make their way to her position at the top of the camera stand. They led her off the stand.
A television cameraman standing next to the protester tried momentarily to quiet her by putting his hand in front of her mouth.
“It’s hugely embarrassing,” said Derek Mitchell, a former Asia adviser at the Pentagon and now an analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
China “must know that this Bush administration is good at controlling crowds for themselves, and the fact that they couldn’t control this is going to play to their worst fears and suspicions about the US, into mistrust about American intentions toward China”.
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy said he was too busy to talk when contacted for comment on the heckling.
Gregory, the spokesman for the Falun Gong-affiliated newspaper, said: “We expected her to act as a reporter – we didn’t expect her to protest. None of us had any idea that Dr Wang was planning this.”