No red carpet treatment for Obama at G20, China says he never asked

U.S. President Barack Obama answers a reporter's question after a bilateral meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May alongside the G20 Summit, in Ming Yuan Hall at Westlake Statehouse in Hangzhou, China September 4, 2016. © Jonathan Ernst
Barack Obama’s visit to China, where he is attending the G20 summit, has had a bumpy start, with staircase trouble, a lack of red carpet and bickering over press access descending on him straight upon landing at the airport. But nothing can pull the rug from under the US leader.

"I wouldn't overcrank the significance" of events at the airport, Obama told a news conference in the Chinese city of Hangzhou on Sunday afternoon. 

It all began when Air Force One landed in Hangzhou, southern China, where global leaders are convening for the G20 economic summit. Despite the standard protocol, there was no staircase waiting for the president to exit the plane at the main door. After some reflection, the US leader was forced to use the inner stairs and the tail-gate as an alternative exit.

Next, the red carpet which usually adorns the tarmac in front of the plane when Air Force One is in town was nowhere to be seen. Once again, the president had to suck it up and walk the carpet-less concrete surface.

RT thought perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin, UK PM Theresa May, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, and Indian PM Narendra Modi – all of whom got to walk along the red carpet – might have used up the entire roll, but Chinese media now report that the carpet was initially not on the president’s ‘rider.’ As stated in the South China Morning Post, the US declined both the red carpet and the staircase.

“China provides a rolling staircase for every arriving state leader, but the US side complained that the driver doesn’t speak English and can’t understand security instructions from the United States, so China proposed that we could assign a translator to sit beside the driver, but the US side turned down the proposal and insisted that they didn’t need the staircase provided by the airport,” the news outlet reported, citing a Chinese Foreign Ministry official. Yet there is so far no word from the US on whether the red carpet was actually needed or not.

While the unfortunate Obama was walking across the tarmac, a rather unsophisticated shouting match broke out between a presidential press aide and a Chinese official, as captured in the video above. The man demanded that the journalists, who wanted to capture Obama’s arrival, not come anywhere near the president. When the aide remarked that it was customary for US journalists to accompany the American leader upon arrival to a foreign destination and film the proceedings, the Chinese official appeared to get rather worked up, shouting “This is our country! This is our airport!”

What’s more, the same Chinese official had attempted to drive Susan Rice, the president’s national security adviser, away from Obama, not letting her near the president until a Secret Service agent stepped in. Reflecting on the incident, Rice told journalists she had not anticipated such treatment from the Chinese.

Obama himself kept his cool when commenting on the hapless series of events, appearing not to be perturbed in the slightest.

READ MORE: G20 summit kicks off in China

The US leader said it was not the first time something like that had happened, as hosting global events such as the G20 can be tricky. He added that he doesn't think small disputes over things such as media access point to a rift between the US and China, stating that there are always tensions when the White House negotiates how much access the US press get to the president while he’s traveling overseas.

However, Obama – for whom this trip to Asia is his last as US leader – also stressed he will not apologize for US journalists and their attempts to be next to their president, saying: “we don't leave our values and our ideals behind when we take those trips.”

China has taken extensive security measures for the G20 summit. On Saturday, a number of shops in Hangzhou closed down for the event and many roads were deserted, Reuters reported – something rather unusual for the busy southern city with 9 million residents.