The G20 summit got off to a contentious start Saturday with Chinese officials reportedly confronting National Security Advisor Susan Rice and other U.S. officials in at least three incidents, as President Obama arrived in China for the two-day international economic talks.
Within minutes of Obama arriving on Air Force One, a member of the Chinese delegation started screaming at White House staff, according to reporters on the tarmac.
One reporter described the scene a “a bit of chaos,” as the Chinese official appeared furious about journalists being so near Obama’s arrival, though they purportedly were standing in the area Chinese officials has designated for them.
White House official reportedly told the Chinese official that the U.S. press corps was staying for the American president arriving on a U.S. aircraft.
The exchange with Rice reportedly happened when the Chinese official attempted to prevent her from walking to the U.S. motorcade, as she crossed a media rope line. The official purportedly spoke angrily to her before a Secret Service agent intervened.
Rice responded, but her comments were inaudible to reporters standing underneath the wing of Air Force One. It was unclear if the official, whose name was not immediately clear, knew that Rice was a senior official, not a reporter.
A White House spokesman and China’s Foreign Ministry did not respond immediately to requests by Reuters for comment.
To be sure, China is taking every precaution to ensure the summit, in the eastern city of Hangzhou, goes smoothly. But the incidents appeared to underscore the community country’s contentious relationship with the United States and other Western nations and efforts to control the media.
Obama has raised issues of freedom of the press on previous visits to China, which insists that media must follow the party line and promote “positive propaganda”.
Foreign reporters are often physically prevented from covering sensitive stories, but altercations involving foreign government officials are rare.
U.S. officials also apparently got into a heated exchange with Chinese security official before Obama arrived at China’s West Lake State Guest House, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to formally enter their respective countries — the world’s two biggest carbon emitters — into last year’s Paris climate change agreement.
The ceremony included U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and took place ahead of the summit, which officially starts Sunday.
White House staffers and Secret Service officers trying to enter the state guest house separately from reporters were stopped at a security gate and purportedly argued about how many members of the U.S. delegation would be allowed to enter.
“The president is arriving here in an hour,” one White House staffer was overheard saying in exasperation.
However, the most heated exchange purportedly occurred between a Chinese security official and a Chinese official helping Americans who got angry about how the guards were treating the White House staff.
“You don’t push people,” the Chinese official purportedly yelled in Chinese. “No one gave you the right to touch or push anyone around.”
Another Chinese official stepped between the two when the security official purportedly looked ready to throw a punch.
“Calm down please. Calm down,” White House official purportedly said.
A foreign ministry official said in Chinese: “Stop, please. There are reporters here.”
Another heated exchange between White House press officers and Chinese officials purportedly occurred minutes later — over how many American print reporters would be allowed inside the building.
The disagreement continued until about 20 minutes before Obama arrived and purportedly ended with 10 of the reporters being allowed inside, despite White House officials arguing there was plenty of empty space for them to stand at the back of the room.
Fox News’ Kristin Brown and wire service reports contributed to this story.