Changing China

Giant on the move

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Nihao Presidente


The normally dull routine of presidential arrivals at Beijing’s airport turned into a mini-scuffle when Hugo Chavez arrived in Beijing for a “working visit” that he sprung on the Chinese about a month ago. The Chinese Foreign Ministry wasn’t eager for Chavez to mar the ceremony with a long-winded speech to the press, even though the Venezuelan embassy had invited journalists to the airport.
As we gathered on bleachers set up about 30 yards from the waiting staircases, the television crews decided to call Chavez over for an inpromptu question-and-answer session. Immediately, the staircases were wheeled away to another spot, more than double the distance from the journalists and certainly well out of earshot.

As the plane slowly approached, the large Chinese and Venezuelan welcoming delegation began walking towards the red carpet, far, far away from us. But then a Venezuelan doubled back and gestered to the press. A break! Journalists sprinted towards the plane, dodging the airport security guards.
A furious argument ensued, as security guards tried to shove reporters back while maintaining some decorum with the embassy representatives. Chavez descended the stairs, grinning amidst the chaos. At the end of the carpet, he turned and began to talk to reporters, while the Chinese guards tried to edge him towards the cars. A few minutes of talking, with no end in sight, made them more impatient. Amid a new round of pushing, Chavez himself got bumped.

“Please,” he said in English as he turned to the guards. “Soft, soft.”

Photo caption: Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez speaks to the media upon his arrival at Beijing airport for his two-day visit to China, April 7, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee