Security officers surround a car carrying U.S. ambassador Gary Locke (HANDOUT/REUTERS)

At one point, protesters surrounded and jostled a car carrying U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke and briefly prevented him from entering the embassy.

Washington hasn’t taken sides and is nervously urging both countries to work this out, but the protesters were there anyway. (It’s not far from the Japanese embassy so maybe they got bored there and walked over.)

At the time, Locke said he never felt in danger and reported that Chinese police cleared the scene quickly. U.S. officials nevertheless formally complained and urged the Chinese “to do everything they can to protect our personnel.”

Shouldn’t be hard, given that these demonstrations are often tightly controlled — if not instigated and paid for — by the government.

An account from a person with knowledge of the incident offered some additional details. Seems there are two entrances to the embassy for automobiles — one public and one private.

On that day, when Locke’s car came to the private entrance it was blocked by the Chinese police who guard embassies (called wujing in Chinese) and he couldn’t get through.

They diverted his car down to the public entrance around the corner, but that took him right into the group of about 50 protesters, who surrounded the car and rocked it a bit.

Several protesters threw objects — apparently plastic water bottles — at the car, one missile bounced off the windshield. The wujing stepped in and Locke’s car was able to make its way down the street to enter through the public entrance.

A State Department spokesman said our account was “overblown,” and the wujing quickly cleared the demonstrators.

The video shows perhaps a fair amount of confusion all around. But it clearly shows the police blocking the car and directing it right into the protesters. Then the wujing step in to extricate Locke.

Well, one would hope the Middle Kingdom, of all places, wouldn’t stoop to such macho gamesmanship — except maybe when oil and gas reserves are stake.