I think the protocol staff at the White House is going to get a good talking to over the next few days.
If only the White House hadn't given press credentials to a Falun Gong activist who five years ago heckled Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, in Malta. Sure enough, 90 seconds into Hu's speech on the South Lawn, the woman started shrieking "President Hu, your days are numbered!" and "President Bush, stop him from
Bush and Hu looked up, stunned. It took so long to silence her — a full three minutes — that Bush aides began to wonder if the Secret Service's strategy was to let her scream herself hoarse. The rattled Chinese president haltingly attempted to continue his speech, and television coverage went to split screen.
"You're OK," Bush gently reassured Hu.
But he wasn't OK, not really. The protocol-obsessed Chinese leader suffered a day full of indignities — some intentional, others just careless. The visit began with a slight when the official announcer said the band would play the "national anthem of the Republic of China" — the official name of Taiwan. It continued when Vice President Dick Cheney donned sunglasses for the ceremony, and again when Hu, attempting to leave the stage via the wrong staircase, was yanked back by his jacket. Hu looked down at his sleeve to see the president of the United States tugging at
it as if redirecting an errant child.
Then there were the intentional slights. China wanted a formal state visit such as Jiang got in 1997, but the administration refused, calling it an "official" visit instead. Bush acquiesced to the 21-gun salute but insisted on a luncheon instead of a formal dinner, in the East Room instead of the State Dining Room. Even the visiting country's flags were missing from the lampposts near the White House.
Now, it's one thing when the random person on the street mixes up Taiwan and mainland China, but you really don't want the White House making that mistake.