President Barack Obama said Sunday his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping were “extremely productive” and that the row between U.S. and Chinese officials at the airport upon his arrival shouldn’t be over blown.
Obama said tensions always arise when the White House negotiates how much access the American press will get to the president and foreign leaders overseas. The White House didn’t apologize for pushing to press access because “we don’t leave our values and our ideals behind when we take those trips.”
“I wouldn’t overcrank the significance” of the tensions at the airport, Obama said in a news conference in Hangzhou where global leaders are meeting for a G20 summit.
The summit got off to a contentious start Saturday with Chinese officials reportedly confronting National Security Advisor Susan Rise and other U.S. officials in at least three separate incidents. Reporters on the tarmac said that as soon as Air Force One arrived, a member of the Chinese delegation started screaming at the White House staff.
One reporter described the scene as “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 had designated for them.
White House officials reportedly told the Chinese official that the U.S. press corps was staying for the American president arriving on a U.S. aircraft.
When the White House official insisted the U.S. would set the rules for its own leader, her Chinese counterpart shot back, the Associated Press reported.
“This is our country! This is our airport!” the Chinese official yelled.
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.
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 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 the Associated Press contributed to this report.