Thursday, November 19, 2009
In China, Obama leaves more questions than he takesBy Dana Milbank
Listening to President Obama and his Chinese counterpart this week, it was hard to tell who was Hu.
One is the leader of a great democracy. The other is the head of a repressive regime. But as the two men faced reporters in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Obama deferred to the wishes of President Hu Jintao: They would not take questions. In lieu of this rite of freedom, the two leaders exchanged platitudes.
"We reached agreement in many important fields," the communist leader assured everybody.
"Our two governments have continued to move forward in a way that can bring even greater cooperation in the future," the democratic leader reciprocated.
It was, to put it charitably, a low-key way of spreading American values. A decade earlier, in that very same hall, President Bill Clinton criticized China's Tiananmen Square crackdown during a news conference with then-President Jiang Zemin. President George W. Bush, no fan of the media, made Hu squirm at the White House three years ago when he insisted that they take questions from U.S. and Chinese journalists.
Obama, by contrast, didn't hold a news conference in China. Instead, he answered questions in Shanghai from students, who were apparently members in good standing of the Communist Youth League (even so, the authorities declined to broadcast the session on state television). Elsewhere in Asia, Obama eschewed the usual format for news conferences with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, instead allowing one reporter from each side to ask a question at each appearance.
Later on he continues to hammer Obama on his refusal to be challenged in public, his bow to the Japanese emperor and his unwillingness to engage reporters the way Bush did when he traveled abroad. When the press complained about it to Robert Gibbs Milbank says Gibbs issued a statement right out of the Politburo.