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Airport tiff highlights US-China value gap: Obama
by Staff Writers
Hangzhou, China (AFP) Sept 4, 2016


'This is our country!' says Chinese official as Obama lands
Hangzhou, China (AFP) Sept 3, 2016 - When US President Barack Obama arrived in China Saturday for his final trip to Asia as commander in chief, the ceremonial niceties were marred by an undiplomatic shouting incident on the tarmac.

Chinese authorities have imposed extremely tight security precautions for the G20 summit, and not even US National Security Adviser Susan Rice and the White House press corps proved exempt when Air Force One landed in host city Hangzhou.

As usual when Obama travels, the reporters accompanying him were brought under the wing of the Boeing 747 to watch him come down the aircraft stairs, penned off behind a blue rope installed by Chinese security.

But that was not far away enough for the Chinese personnel, one of whom screamed at White House staff, demanding the US press leave the scene.

A female White House official, handbag over her arm, told him that it was an American plane and the US president.

"This is our country!" the Chinese official, in a dark suit, shouted at her in English. "This is our airport!"

When US National Security Adviser Susan Rice and senior White House staffer Ben Rhodes tried to get closer to the president, lifting up the blue rope and walking under it, the official turned his ire on Rice, trying to block her progress.

As they exchanged angry words her Secret Service agent stepped in to usher her past him.

Moments afterwards the US president's motorcade was rolling away, towards a city of nine million people that has been denuded of around a quarter of its population for the event.

Factories have been closed to ensure blue skies, potential troublemakers detained, and the wide boulevards of a city lauded by Venetian traveller Marco Polo are empty.

"They did things that weren't anticipated," Rice told reporters later.

A tarmac tiff between US and Chinese officials over media access highlighted the gap between views on human rights and press freedom, US President Barack Obama said Sunday after the incident soured the start of a global summit.

China's government minders gave American National Security Advisor Susan Rice and other US officials trouble over press access to the US leader's arrival in the eastern city of Hangzhou.

The dispute concluded in a nationalistic eruption from one official, who shouted "This is our country! This is our airport!" at White House staffers as they tried to help American reporters position themselves to film Obama's arrival.

The outburst was caught on camera, in an awkward prelude to face-to-face talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American guest.

Both leaders are eager to smooth over their differences and find areas of common cause as they seek to bolster their leadership credentials both abroad and at home.

The incident was not a first for China, Obama said during a press briefing with new British Prime Minister Theresa May.

"We think it's important that the press have access to the work that we're doing. That they have the ability to answer questions," he said, adding "we don't leave our values and ideals behind when we take these trips."

The differences are also on display in discussions with his Chinese counterpart, he said.

"When I bring up issues like human rights, there are some tensions there that perhaps don't take place when President Xi meets with other leaders."

Kerfuffles over press access are common in China, where the ruling Communist Party sees the media more as a tool for forwarding its political agenda than an independent check on governance.

The country tightly controls its journalism, regularly censoring reporting on issues it deems sensitive or unflattering.

Its approach is particularly apparent in Hangzhou, where a suffocating security presence is designed to avoid any disruption and protect China's large political and financial investment in the summit.

Nevertheless, Obama took the tarmac incident in good rumour, noting that the travelling White House juggernaut can be intimidating for any nation.

"Part of it is we also have a much bigger footprint than a lot of other countries," he said.

"We've got a lot of planes, a lot of helicopters, a lot of cars, a lot of guys. You know, if you're a host country, sometimes it may feel a little bit much."

Obama arrives in China for final visit as president
Hangzhou, China (AFP) Sept 3, 2016 - US President Barack Obama arrived in China on Saturday for his final visit as president, intent on cementing the "pivot" to Asia undertaken during his administration.

Obama was welcomed by an honour guard as Air Force One landed in the eastern city of Hangzhou, which is hosting the G20 summit of global economic powers.

But there was also tension on the tarmac, with angry words exchanged when a Chinese official remonstrated with National Security Advisor Susan Rice about where she could stand.

Hangzhou is under ultra-tight security, with a quarter of its residents encouraged to leave and potential troublemakers detained as the ruling Communist Party takes every measure to prevent any possible wrinkles.

Later Saturday Obama will hold private talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the city's picturesque West Lake, dotted with islands and a favoured subject for Chinese artists.

The meeting is expected to focus on the fight against global warming, after China on Saturday ratified the Paris climate accord and with the US tipped to follow suit, taking the pact a giant step forward.

Tackling climate change has become a bright spot in often difficult relations between the two powers.

But Xi and Obama will also discuss tensions in the South China Sea, where Beijing's territorial claims, and its construction of artificial islands in disputed waters, have set the region on edge.

On Sunday Obama is to hold talks with Theresa May for the first time since she became British prime minister in the wake of the landmark vote to leave the European Union.

Syria will shift into focus when Obama meets his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the summit.

Relations between Washington and Ankara have soured following an attempted coup against Erdogan and Kurdish advances along Turkey's southern border.

Erdogan has accused the United States of harbouring a Turkish cleric he accuses of plotting the coup.

US officials insist they will extradite Fethullah Gulen if Turkey can present proof he was actually involved.

The spat has soured public perceptions of the United States in Turkey and risks undermining a deep security relationship between the NATO allies.

Tensions have been further strained by Turkey's bombing of Kurdish positions in northern Syria.

The targets included Kurdish groups that are backed by Washington and seen as integral to the fight against the Islamic State group.

Ankara accuses them of being in league with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group which has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks inside Turkey.

Obama could also take the opportunity to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as their foreign ministers work to reach a deal that would ease fighting around Aleppo.

After the G20 talks conclude Monday, Obama will travel to Laos which is hosting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.


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