Sat, Apr 22, 2006 - Page 3 News List

`Bu-Hu' meeting bedeviled by flubs

GAFFES The Chinese president got a less-than-warm welcome that included a Falun Gong demonstrator, an incorrect reference to China's anthem and a wary mood


Staff Reporter in Washington

It was a day that the Chinese president probably wished he could do all over again the right way.

Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) was standing ramrod-straight next to an equally stiff George W. Bush under a brilliantly sunny and unseasonably warm April day in the US capital, ready for the pomp and circumstance of a grand White House welcome for his first summit visit to Washington as supreme Chinese leader.

Almost immediately, things began to go wrong.

As China's national anthem was about to be played, the official announcer said: "The national anthem of the Republic of China."

What he meant, of course, was the anthem of the People's Republic of China.

Was this a subtle sign of a change in US policy to the Chinese guest? Or just an innocent flub? Most certainly the latter, observers say.

The announcer was probably "as nervous as a kitten up a tree," said one, and simply misspoke.

A press conference planned for Hu later in the day at the Chinese embassy was abruptly canceled, and Chinese reporters confided that officials feared Hu would be asked about the gaffe and have trouble responding.

He also may have faced questions about a second disconcerting incident at the welcoming ceremony: an unscripted one-woman Falun Gong demonstration against Hu's rule.

That came just as Hu began to speak.

Suddenly, there was a ruckus coming from the media stands among the TV cameras.

A women, later identified as Wang Wenyi (王文怡), a 47-year-old pathologist from New York and a freelance writer for the Falun Gong-backed newspaper the Epoch Times, unfurled a yellow banner with red wording and began to taunt Hu.

"Hu, your days are numbered," she shouted over and over in a shrill voice in Mandarin and English.

She was eventually taken into custody and charged by local police.

Bush later apologized to Hu, saying: "This was unfortunate, and I'm sorry this happened," according to Dennis Wilder, the top Asian specialist in the National Security Council, speaking at a press briefing.

An AP report quoted Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin as saying that Wang had been charged with disorderly conduct and that a separate charge of intimidating or disrupting foreign officials was also being considered. Her ability to infiltrate the proceedings was of concern in view of the extra-tight security arrangements apparently insisted on by the Chinese.

Most Taiwanese reporters were barred from the event, as were many other non-US citizen reporters from the foreign press.

The White House allowed Wang in as a domestic reporter. Because Epoch Times reporters normally cover the White House, Wang's pass was apparently approved automatically.

The AP report quoted Stephen Gregory, a spokesman for the Epoch Times, as saying: "We expected her to act as a reporter; we didn't expect her to protest. None of us had any idea that Dr Wang was planning this."

What caught the eye of observers was the total absence of Chinese flags from the main roads around the White House. Normally, every lamppost on several key thoroughfares would be festooned with the flags of a visiting dignitary's country as well as the District of Columbia flag.

The lack of flags must have disturbed Hu, who was looking at his visit as the apex of pomp , but which the Bush administration refused to elevate to the "state visit" which Chinese officials insisted was taking place.

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