A cup of tea with China's police
The police in China's Xinjiang region can serve a very good cup of tea at two in the morning.
I know this because I spent a reasonably interesting (and involuntary) hour or so with them last night (my colleagues and I were on our way to the western city of Kashgar to cover the aftermath of the attack on Monday which killed 16 policemen.)
Police officers in Xinjiang'a capital Urumqi stopped us as we were filming a series of TV late lives on the street near our hotel. They drove us in a five-car convoy to a police station and escorted into the boardroom (where three men with dyed black hair were happily watching a Russian adventure film on TV.)
Four officers came into the room and sat down in a row on the opposite side of the boardroom table (it felt a bit like a job interview.)
"Have you applied for permission to report from Xinjiang?" one of them asked us.
"We don't need to" was our (polite) answer.
Temporary reporting guidelines introduced in January 2007 for the Olympic period give foreign correspondents in China the right to travel freely in China without having to ask for the government's permission (as happened in the past.)
But the police were keen to press on. "What is the nature of your mission to the Xinjiang region?" I replied 'journalism'. They then said "Have you filmed anyone since you got here?" I said "Just me." Next question was "Have you spoken to anyone?" I responded "Yes, many police officers".
The officers warned us very courteously that we were putting ourselves in great danger by being out in the street late at night. They suggested that the government could select a few interesting places for us to visit, and that they would be happy to come along as our security escort. We declined. The police offered us tea and we accepted.
At two thirty in the morning (after a few calls from both sides to higher-ups), they agreed to let us go and get on with our work. We shook hands and left the station. I've had many encounters with the police in China - this was one of the most polite by far.
We then headed onto Kashgar (after no sleep) to look for the site of Monday's attack near a border police barracks. By the time we arrived, almost everything had been swept away. The few people milling about the scene didn't want to spend too long answering questions from foreign reporters.
Luckily for us, one man was keen to talk (and talk and talk.) The Communist Party Secretary (ie boss) of Kashgar, Shi Dagang, held a press conference in the afternoon in order to give a few more details about Monday's attacks.
He said that the two men who carried out the attacks were local Muslims- one was a vegetable seller, the other a taxi driver."They tried to carry out jihad. It was a well plotted incident." Mr Shi said."The terrorists will never win local support," he went on, "Their activities are doomed to perish."
After an hour of almost non-stop exposition (the official sitting on the panel next to him didn't get a chance to say a single word) China's leader in Kashgar thanked us and left.
I never got the chance to ask him the one question I really wanted him to answer: could he guarantee that the Beijing Olympics would be safe from attack?