Fanfare but little substance at orchestrated EU-China summit
By Tamora Vidaillet and Darren Ennis
Reporters at a long-awaited summit between the European Union and China in Prague Castle learnt more about the art of stage managing set-piece events than about the state of the EU-China relationship.
The Czech Republic, which holds the EU presidency until the end of next month, pulled out all the stops to ensure security was tight for Wednesday’s fleeting visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and a handful of ministers, who were kept away from journalists by barriers.
Ushered into a stuffy holding room hours before the meeting, journalists were kept from stepping outside even for a smoke for fear of escaping into the sprawling compound of the castle.
Outside, other aspects of the summit were subjected to similar controls. About 60 peope protesting against alleged Chinese abuses of human rights were kept well away from the eyes of Wen, who swept into the castle in a motorcade of black limousines.
Instead of letting Wen arrive to a chorus of abuse, Chinese men in suits carefully orchestrated a more friendly crowd of local Chinese well-wishers who merrily waved Czech and Chinese flags as Wen and his entourage drove by.
Once Wen’s car was safely within the sealed confines of the castle, the men handed out McDonald’s hamburgers to thank the crowd, which held up two banners in Chinese declaring their love for the premier.
Back in the castle, journalists from as far afield as Japan, Brussels, London and Paris waited impatiently before finally getting permission to go to what had been hailed as a news conference.
What an anti-climax. Rumours that plans to have a question-and-answer session would be scuppered proved true. Czech President Vaclav Klaus started a series of scripted statements. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso signalled for Wen to go next, but Wen made it clear he wanted the final word after what he described as 20 hours of flying time to visit Prague for just a few hours.
After his long statement, there was no time left for questions — on issues such as human rights or currencies — leaving journalists wondering why they had bothered to travel all this way.
Aides acknowledged it was more of a ceremonial, set-piece event than a meeting of substance.