President Obama arrived in China for the G2 summit on Saturday and things didn’t exactly go smoothly. Trouble started right off the bat with an unusual altercation on the tarmac between Chinese and U.S. officials. The squabble included national security adviser Susan Rice.
The trouble began right after Air Force One landed in Hangzhou, when the traveling American press contingent was brought out onto the tarmac. A Chinese official started yelling at White House staff. According to Politico, this same official “also attempted to block Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes after they lifted a blue rope holding back press and walked to the other side of it, closer to Obama.”
The press had been told to stay in a designated area underneath the wing of Air Force One, which was sectioned off with blue rope. But then a member of the Chinese delegation started yelling at White House staff and demanded that the press leave. White house officials stood their ground, arguing that it was our plane and the press was not leaving the designated area. The Chinse official wasn’t backing down either, telling White House staff, “This is our country.”
When Rice was asked about the incident later, she said only, “They did things that weren’t anticipated.”
Unfortunately, the trouble didn’t end there.
White House staff arrived ahead of Obama at Westlake Statehouse, where the summit was being held, but they were stopped at a security checkpoint. A heated exchange ensued between Chinese officials and White House staff, protocol officers and Secret Service, who had been attempting to enter the venue separate from members of the press.
U.S. officials and Chinese officials argued in Chinese about “how many Americans could go through security at one time, how many White House officials were allowed to be in the building before Obama’s arrival, and which U.S. officials were on a security list.”
“The president is arriving here in an hour,” a White House staffer was overheard saying, in total frustration over the situation.
A Chinese official finally lost it and stepped in on behalf of the White House officials.
“You don’t push people. No one gave you the right to touch or push anyone around,” he shouted at one of the Chinese security officials.
At this point, yet another Chinese official trying to assist White House staff got involved and had to physically step between the other two men that to keep a fist fight from breaking out.
“Calm down, please. Calm down,” a White House official said.
“Stop, please,” a foreign ministry official said in Chinese. “There are reporters here.”
Yet another disagreement took place once the press and White House officials had finally gotten into the building. Chinese officials informed White House staff that they had decided to change the rules, again, and said that only 10 members of the American press would be permitted in the room.
“That’s not right,” said a White House press official.
Two American journalists were initially not allowed to enter the room, despite White House officials arguing that there was clearly plenty of space for them. “There’s space. They are print reporters. They would just be just standing,” one White House press officer said before the two journalists were finally granted access to the room.
But the snags in this visit were still not over.
Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping were scheduled to end their talks “with a nighttime stroll through the diplomatic compound on West Lake to Obama’s motorcade, with a cadre of reporters in tow.” But even this became a source of contention. Chinese officials decided that rather than the six journalists they had originally agreed upon, they were now only okay with three journalists accompanying the leaders on their stroll. And they then dropped that down to only one.
“That is our arrangement,” a Chinese official told White House officials.
“But your arrangement keeps changing,” a White House official replied.
In the end, two American journalists were allowed to cover their evening walk.
I hope Air Force one was stocked with plenty of Excedrin because they surely needed it after a day like this.
Featured image via Wang Zhou – Pool/Getty Images