24 April 2019
US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One at Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport in Hangzhou on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One at Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport in Hangzhou on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Hangzhou airport tiff highlights US-China value gap: Obama

US President Barack Obama has played down an airport dispute between US and Chinese officials over media access during his arrival in Hangzhou for the G20 summit.

The American leader said the tensions were the result of different approaches to the media, as well as the sheer scale of the US operation when he travels, Agence France-Presse reports.

Washington stands up for press freedom and human rights and – whatever the fallout – does not “leave our values and ideals behind when we take these trips”, he said.

A Chinese official who wanted US reporters traveling with the president to move shouted at a White House staffer: “This is our country! This is our airport!”

Chinese government minders confronted National Security Advisor Susan Rice when she moved closer to Obama as he walked from Air Force One after landing at the Hangzhou airport.

And when US security personnel decided Obama should leave the plane using its built-in staircase, he was left stepping onto the tarmac rather than a red carpet, prompting speculation of a snub, the news agency said.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Obama said the US and China have different values when it comes to media freedom.

“It can cause some friction. The seams are showing a little more than usual in terms of some of the negotiations and jostling that takes place behind the scenes.

“Part of it is we also have a much bigger footprint than a lot of other countries. And we’ve got a lot of planes, a lot of helicopters, a lot of cars, a lot of guys. You know, if you’re a host country, sometimes it may feel a little bit much.”

US sources told AFP that the staircase incident stemmed from their own decision to use Air Force One’s own staircase, rather than the one proffered by airport authorities.

Obama said it was not the first time Washington’s differences with Beijing had erupted during a visit, and that clashing values were also on display in his discussions with Xi.

“And so I wouldn’t over-crank the significance of it,” he said.

“We think it’s important that the press have access to the work that we’re doing. That they have the ability to answer questions,” he said.

Kerfuffles over press access are common in China, where the ruling Communist Party sees the media more as a tool for forwarding its political agenda than an independent check on governance, AFP said.

The country tightly controls domestic journalism, regularly censoring reporting on issues it deems sensitive or unflattering, the news agency added.

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