Protocol can be a tricky thing, especially when it involves the visit of the leader of a country with which ties are a little tense.
Last time Hu Jintao was in Washington for an official trip to meet the US president was back in April 2006, when Hu met George W. Bush. The problem was that the American side didn’t see it as a ‘state’ visit, instead describing the meeting as an ‘official’ lunch. The Chinese side, understandably, was seen as viewing this downgrading as something of slight. (The last trip by a Chinese leader that both sides officially described as a state visit was back in 1997, when Jiang Zemin was president).
That wasn’t all. Rather embarrassingly, Hu was introduced as coming from the Republic of China—the official name for Taiwan—rather than the People’s Republic of China. To cap it all, a Falun Gong protester managed to interrupt the South Lawn arrival ceremony.
With a host of difficult issues to discuss—North Korea, the Chinese currency, human rights—the Obama White House has been keen to ensure there weren’t any additional awkward moments.
So far, the White House has generally managed to avoid any major blunders that would embarrass the guests. Of course, a House Foreign Affairs Committee briefing on China and US interests that was held as Hu arrived, and which included regular Diplomat contributor Gordon Chang, would have made for awkward listening. And Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s description of China as a ‘gangster’ regime on a CNN talk show wouldn’t have gone down well either. But both of these are largely out of the White House’s control.
But as Real Clear World Editor Samuel Chi noted on their site, the White House may actually have managed to embarrass itself a little with its management of a press conference. Writing for The Compass, Chi noted some technical difficulties with the translators that he says meant the joint press conference was often interrupted for translations of remarks and questions into both English and Chinese.
Chi went on to note:
‘The technological problems have to be seen as somewhat of an embarrassment for the White House. With the leaders of the two most powerful countries meeting in a summit, the US appeared ill-prepared for something as simple as a press conference. The quality of the translators (both for English and Mandarin) is also questionable, as both spoke with a slight accent.’
The rest of his interesting take, including Hu’s visibly annoyed response to a question on the snub of Congressional leaders at the state dinner, is here.
And was there one other oversight by the White House protocol team? It looks at least according to a copy of the guest list for the state dinner on Politics Daily that the Chinese guests were placed in alphabetical order using their given names, rather than their family ones.