US President Barack Obama has been delivered a calculated diplomatic snub in Hangzhou, China, where global leaders are convening for the G20 summit. The problems began as soon as Obama’s plane landed in Hangzhou on Saturday. Unlike Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Brazilian President Michel Temer and British Prime Minister Theresa May, Obama did not have the red carpet to walk on when he stepped off the plane.
The US president was also forced to leave Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly, only used on high-security trips, after Chinese officials failed to provide the rolling staircase. In addition, there were heated altercations between Chinese and US officials after reporters were met by a line of bright blue tape held by Chinese security guards, who did not let them watch Obama disembark. A White House staff member protested to this behavior, but one Chinese official shouted back, “This is our country! This is our airport!”
“The reception that President Obama and his staff got when they arrived here Saturday afternoon was bruising, even by Chinese standards,” according to The New York Times. Reacting to the incident, Obama later said the row between the US and Chinese officials should not be overblown. “I wouldn’t overcrank the significance” of the tensions, he said at a news conference on Sunday. But Mexico’s former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, believes the reception was part of a calculated snub.
“These things do not happen by mistake. Not with the Chinese,” Guajardo, who hosted presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón during his time in Beijing, told The Guardian. “I’ve dealt with the Chinese for six years. I’ve done these visits. I took Xi Jinping to Mexico. I received two Mexican presidents in China. I know exactly how these things get worked out. It’s down to the last detail in everything. It’s not a mistake. It’s not.”
In another instance, when President Xi Jinping took Obama on a leisurely stroll following dinner on Saturday, Chinese security officials cut the number of American journalists who wanted to see the stroll to three from the original six, and then to just one reporter. “This is our arrangement,” a Chinese official explained to his American counterpart. “Your arrangement keeps changing,” the American replied.
In his meeting with the Chinese president, Obama urged him to uphold China’s legal obligations and highlighted Washington’s commitments to its regional allies. “The president reaffirmed that the United States will work with all countries in the region to uphold the principles of international law, unimpeded lawful commerce, and freedom of navigation and over-flight,” the White House said on Saturday.
A Hague-based court of arbitration ruled in July that China’s claims to sovereignty over the disputed areas or resources in the South China Sea “had no legal basis.” China, however, dismissed the ruling, insisting that the tribunal had no jurisdiction over the issue.
In his talks with Obama, Xi said that China “will persist in peacefully resolving disputes through consultations with parties directly involved.” He called on the US to “play a constructive role” in regional peace and stability.
China claims sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam as well as the Philippines.
The issue has been a source of tension between China, the US, and regional countries, which are seeking control of trade routes and mineral deposits there.