WASHINGTON – A screaming protester greeted Chinese President Hu Jintao on the White House lawn Thursday, spoiling some of the pageantry of a visit that made little headway toward resolving tensions between the United States and the world’s most dynamic rising power.
Authorities in China blocked CNN’s live broadcast of the White House arrival ceremony for Hu when a woman began berating him in Chinese and English. She was quickly led away, but the brief disruption was a sour start for a visit that was intended to showcase the two governments’ mutual desire for closer relations.
At a later meeting in the Oval Office, President Bush and his guest struggled to bridge differences over how to deal with Iran and North Korea, trade, human rights and the future of Taiwan. Even so, both leaders declared their willingness to work together.
“We don’t agree on everything, but we’re able to discuss our disagreements in a spirit of friendship and cooperation,” Bush told reporters after the closed-door talks.
Chinese officials wanted to use Hu’s first official visit to the White House to highlight China’s growing significance on the world stage. Bush’s aides rejected Chinese requests for a full state dinner, but Hu still got the red-carpet treatment.
Drum rolls and blaring trumpets heralded the Chinese leader’s arrival as Hu’s limousine pulled up to the south entrance of the White House. The pomp included a 21-gun salute, a fife and drum corps in colonial garb, and a White House luncheon with top officials, business leaders and celebrities.
Departing from the usual protocol, which calls for the two leaders to sit at separate tables, Bush and Hu dined together so they could continue their conversation over how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Hu and Bush agreed to continue to work together to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea, but didn’t resolve their differences over the best approach to Iran. Hu opposes the use of economic sanctions to force Iran’s cooperation, and his efforts to get North Korea to resume negotiations over its weapons program have fallen flat.
“We have a common goal, and that is that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon,” Bush said. “I will continue to work with the president to strategize as to how best to achieve our important goal.”
The protester, identified as Wenyi Wang, attended the ceremony on a temporary press pass issued to The Epoch Times, a publication that supports the Falun Gong spiritual movement. The Chinese government harshly suppresses Falun Gong. Falun Gong adherents have taken a leading role in attacking China’s human rights record.
“Mr. Hu, your days are numbered!” Wang shouted before being led away.
Bush urged his guest to ignore the heckler and later expressed regrets that Wang was allowed onto the White House grounds. “I’m sorry this happened,” he told Hu, according to Dennis Wilder, an Asia expert on the National Security Council.
U.S. officials acknowledged that the incident didn’t sit well with Hu and his entourage.
“It was very embarrassing for the president of China to have to withstand that,” said Derek Mitchell, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “This is the one thing they put the most effort into – the pageantry was set. They had to be mortified.”
Another awkward moment came at the end of the arrival ceremony when Bush grabbed Hu’s arm to stop him from walking off in the wrong direction. The Chinese leader seemed startled, then annoyed, as he turned to find Bush clutching the sleeve of his suit.
Some analysts expressed frustration that Bush and Hu failed to make significant progress on trade issues. China’s $202 billion trade surplus with the United States in 2005 has become a major source of friction, especially in Congress. Bush has been pressuring China to open its markets to more U.S. products and to ease currency restrictions that make Chinese exports cheaper.
So far, he has little to show for his efforts, despite Hu’s assurances that he wants to address U.S. concerns.
“We understand the American concerns over the trade imbalances, the protection of intellectual property rights and market access,” Hu said. “We’ll continue to expand market access and increase the import of American products.”