The G20 summit in China got off to a rough start as a Chinese official confronted not one, but two of President Barack Obama’s staffers at Hangzhou airport.
Reuters reports that the trouble began the minute Obama’s G20 delegation stepped off the plane on Saturday. First, a Chinese official confronted one of the president’s aides on the airport tarmac. It’s unclear what the ruckus was about because much of the dialog was obscured by background noise.
But the official was seen pointing, scolding and gesticulating and clearly declared, in English:
‘This is our country. This is our airport.’
Perhaps “freedom of the press” needs to be added as an action item on the G20 summit’s agenda. According to Reuters:
‘The U.S. aide insisted that the journalists be allowed to stand behind a rope line, and they were able to record the interaction and Obama’s arrival uninterrupted, typical practice for U.S. press traveling with the president.’
Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, also met with trouble as she tried to join the president’s motorcade. The same official gave her flack as she crossed the rope line where the press was corralled and a Secret Service agent had to intervene. We still don’t know what provoked the official. Reporters venture that the Chinese official may have thought Rice was one of those dreaded news reporters. Meanwhile, the president had gone ahead of them and didn’t learn of the two incidents until later.
As Reuters observes, there’s a lot riding for China on this year’s G20 summit of world leaders.
‘The stakes are high for China to pull off a trouble-free G20 summit of the world’s top economies, its highest profile event of the year, as it looks to cement its global standing and avoid acrimony over a long list of tensions with Washington.’
Alas, China’s intense desire to project a good image through tight control of the media makes them look bad.
‘The Chinese government has broad control over domestic media and prevents many foreign media outlets from publishing in the country, including by blocking their websites.’
President Barack Obama has criticized China’s limits on the press during his previous visits. Unfortunately, the Chinese government is unlikely to change their press policies anytime soon. Reuters takes care to add that China does not routinely give top staffers for heads of state a hard time. Still, as CNN points out, the G20 summit is likely Barack Obama’s last visit to Asia as President of the U.S.
Featured image: Video screengrab via Reuters.