Ryan Pickrell, DCNF
The president’s Saturday arrival in China was unquestionably chaotic, and he and his staff clearly did not receive the same treatment that other state leaders received. But, was it a deliberate snub?
When President Barack Obama arrived in Hangzhou for the Group of 20 (G20) summit, he exited Air Force One by way of an opening towards the back of the plane. Other state leaders, including Japan’s Shinzo Abe, were presented with a red carpet staircase leading up to primary exit points on their aircrafts, reports the Guardian.
Before Obama exited Air Force One, there were altercations between a Chinese official and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, a White House press aide, and Secret Service. The same Chinese official attempted to send away press staff, at which point a female White House official told him that Air Force One is an American plane and that Obama is our president. The Chinese official angrily responded, “This is our country! This is our airport!”
Rice reportedly said that the Chinese did things that were “not anticipated.”
“It’s a snub. It’s a way of saying: ‘You know, you’re not that special to us.’ It’s part of the new Chinese arrogance. It’s part of stirring up Chinese nationalism. It’s part of saying: ‘China stands up to the superpower,” Jorge Guajardo, former Mexican ambassador to China, told the Guardian. “These things do not happen by mistake,” added the former diplomat.
For a summit which the China Daily said would “inject strong momentum” into the U.S.-China bilateral relationship, things are off to an awkward start.
Despite appearances, there is the possibility that the incident on the tarmac in Hangzhou Saturday was merely a misunderstanding.
“China provides a rolling staircase for every arriving state leader, but the U.S. side complained that the driver doesn’t speak English and can’t understand security instructions from the United States; so China proposed that we could provide a translator to sit beside the driver, but the U.S. side turned down the proposal and insisted that they didn’t need a staircase provided by the airport,” an unnamed Chinese foreign ministry official told the South China Morning Post.
While China was unable to provide the president with a red carpet staircase, they did lay out a red carpet leading to his limousine.
“Sino-US relations are important to China, and there’s absolutely no logic in creating trouble or to downgrade the treatment for the U.S. president,” He Weiwen, a former economic counsellor at the Chinese consulates in San Francisco and New York, explained to the SCMP.
Obama is encouraging people to avoid overhyping the altercations at the airport upon his arrival.
“When delegations travel to the United States, sometimes there are issues about our security procedures and protocols that they’re aggravated with that don’t always get reported on,” Obama said before the G20 opening ceremony. He added that things like this have happened before, even when visiting U.S. allies. “Part of it is we also have a much bigger footprint than a lot of other countries. We’ve got a lot of planes and a lot of helicopters and a lot of cars and a lot of guys, and if you’re a host country, it may feel a little bit much.”
While there are tensions between China and the U.S. over issues ranging from the Korean peninsula to the South China Sea, both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Obama intend to use the G20 to resolve key problems and improve bilateral ties.
“Where countries like China and the United States are prepared to show leadership and lead by example, it is possible for us to create a world that is more secure, more prosperous, and more free than the one that was left for us,” Obama announced after China and the U.S. formally agreed to join the Paris Climate Change Agreement Saturday.
There are noticeable U.S.-China tensions, yet the primary goal of state officials on both sides of the Pacific is still to mitigate, not exacerbate tensions.
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