Monday, April 24, 2006

Boorish on the Potomac

Considering how much time and effort was spent on the ceremonial details of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s official visit to Washington DC, last week it is hard to understand how things could have gotten fouled up so badly.

It should be remembered that the visit started off as a deliberate put down. The Chinese argued strenuously for a full state visit complete with a black-tie state dinner. They got an official state lunch and welcome on the White House grounds. Things went downhill from there.

First the announcer described the national anthem being played in Hu’s honor as the anthem of the Republic of China, not the People’s Republic of China.

In the middle of the ceremony a heckler from the Falungong, a quasi Buddhist sect banned in China, was allowed to scream abuse on the Chinese president for at least one full minute, some say more than two minutes, before being evicted.

Toward the end of the ceremony, President Bush was photographed grabbing Hu’s jacket sleeve to guide him in the right direction. Hu looks down on President Bush with obvious distaste as if to say keep your mangy hands off me.

At the press conference in the oval office a bored-looking Vice President Dick Cheney is photographed slumped in a chair reading a book while the two presidents are answering question.

The official Chinese media may not have reported the heckler or some of the other boorish incidents. But pictures, videos and descriptions are all over the Chinese Internet, stoking anger even among those blogs outside of the PRC that normally spend their time bashing the Chinese Communist Party.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the long-term consequences of Thursday’s events for the US and people everywhere yearning for a lowering of international tensions would turn out to be both negative and significant,” said the China Confidential blog.

This was President George W Bush’s Belgrade moment. I suppose there may be a few Chinese who do not believe that America deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. I suppose there might be a few Chinese who don’t believe that the US deliberately sought to humiliate President Hu.

What many can’t understand is how the woman heckler not only was permitted so close to the two president but why she was allowed to scream abuse for such a long time. Watching it on Fox News from here, it seemed to go on forever, and one wondered why somebody didn’t remove her?

As it turns out the heckler, Wang Wenji, had obtained press credential from the Epoch Times, an online Falungong newpaper. Later the Epoch Times apologized and said, rather disingenuously, I think: “If the Epoch Times had known of her intentions to protest we would have seen that her press credentials were withdrawn.”

In fact, Wang was notorious. She has protested outside of Chinese consulates before and on an earlier occasion broke through the security barrier to confront former Chinese president Jiang Zemin while he was visiting Malta. Could the Secret Service not have known of her?

Some American commentators shrugged the incident off or tried to put a good face on it. Isn’t it nice that the Chinese president gets to hear dissenting voices that he doesn’t hear in his own country?

It’s not as if traveling Chinese presidents haven’t encountered protestors before. Anytime a senior Chinese official visits Europe or the US, he is dogged by proponents of Tibetan independence, Taiwan independence and other causes. They just usually aren’t invited to the party.

I wonder how many of these commentators would have applauded anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, if she had stood up from the gallery of the House of Representatives and shouted “Your days are numbered” at Bush during his State-of-the Union Speech for two solid minutes. In fact, she was hustled out of the chamber before she said a word, if indeed she was planning to say something.

To be fair, the Chinese bear some responsibility for the fiasco. After all, they were the ones obsessed with the ceremonial aspects of the visit, basically demanding a big photo-op that would somehow convey an image of a rising (peacefully, of course) China.

They might have been wiser to have accepted the Bush’s administration’s initial offer to spend a day, or better a weekend, at the ranch or Camp David. Then the two presidents might have had a real conversation instead of rushing through their talking points.

But fundamentally it was the host who was responsible. In the space of one hour we managed to refer to our guest’s anthem by the name of his enemy; let a heckler harangue the guest for two full minutes before shutting her up; manhandled the president of a friendly country off the stage. Not bad for a day’s work.

2 Comments:

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May 1, 2006 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Patrick Tan said...

Belgrade moment indeed. Attempt to "humiliate" China might be a little strong, but I certainly do believe there existed an intent (both now and in 1999) to warn China who's the sole hegemonic superpower in the world today, as if to say "Don't you dare challenge our might."

May 9, 2006 at 8:01 PM  

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