FOR HU JINTAO, the substance of his summit meeting with President Bush today will occur before it ever begins — with the 21-gun salute the Chinese president will receive on the White House lawn. Broadcast back to China, the reception will be offered by the communist regime as proof that Mr. Bush regards Mr. Hu as a strategic partner in managing global affairs. But there’s another signal moment of the day’s events, which will occur just after the Bush-Hu talks. Contrary to the standard protocol for visiting heads of state, there will be no news conference at which American and Chinese journalists can ask unscripted questions.
The White House’s acquiescence to a Chinese demand that Mr. Hu not be subjected to possibly embarrassing queries about political prisoners, religious freedom or censorship of the Internet symbolizes a major element of Mr. Bush’s policy — his willingness to relegate China’s worsening performance on political freedom and human rights to a back burner.
I agree with the editorialist that there should always be questions posed — always. It’s kind of ironic that when this editorial link appears on the screen, one can do a “Google Search” from the press page — something that the Chinese cannot do unless using a filtered Google.
But a couple of points of national self-reflection.
We live in a political age now where the unscripted question asked of a president or cabinet secretary is so unique that it makes headline news in the rare moments one occurs. We live in a time when during the last campaign, Cheney and Bush would attend meetings where only card-carrying “good” Republicans were allowed in the door. We live in a time when the RNC in the last election sent out election literature asserting that Democrats would ban the bible and turn their states into bastions of homosexual sin and the media, for the most part, did little to challenge the leadership of the Republican Party for that outrage. We live in a time when we have quietly watched the largest expansion of “official secrecy” in American history — under a secrecy-obsessed President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense — except at the moment, of course, when the President wants to tilt an argument his way in a major paper by dumping secrets into the lap of Judith Miller-type journalists.
Hu Jintao should have been compelled to face questions, but the Washington Post‘s lead should have been:
Why should American reporters expect Hu Jintao to respond to questions when our own government mocks the public’s right to know?”
I will be attending the Hu Jintao dinner tonight — sponsored by the US-China Business Council, National Committee on US-China Relations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
True to the spirit of the Post editorial, the organizers — probably at Chinese government request — are blocking entry of any ‘electronic’ recording devices. So, I’ll be there with pen and paper and will do my best to convey anything worth telling from the dinner.
I wonder if they’ll be able to Google this TWN post from China.
— Steve Clemons