Did White House Protocol Gaffes Insult Chinese?

ByABC News via logo

April 22, 2006 — -- Every minute detail of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit was painfully negotiated, down to the camera angles. Everything was planned to perfection.

Well, almost everything.

As President Bush and Hu stood ceremoniously, the White House announcer said, "Ladies and gentleman, the national anthem of the Republic of China."

What's the problem? The Republic of China is the formal name of Taiwan, considered by the People's Republic of China -- the formal name of China -- as an arch-rival, rebel province. The issue of Taiwan is a longtime sore spot in Sino-American relations.

"Whoever made that mistake, I am sure, is very unhappy about having done so: It's embarrassing," said John Gifford Weimann, White House chief of protocol under the first President Bush from 1991 to 1993.

"When you make a misstatement, the best thing to do is ignore it," he added.

But it was pretty hard to ignore Wang Wenyi, the protestor who infiltrated the White House press conference where Hu was taking questions. Wenyi is facing charges and the Chinese embassy is demanding to know how she got press credentials.

The late night comics have had a field day with all these gaffes.

Said Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show": "The arrival ceremony was interrupted by a protestor, who said, 'Stop the persecution; stop the torture.' President Bush had to ask, 'Which one of us are you talking to?' "

But in the world of international diplomacy, even the smallest slights can have much larger consequences.

"The Chinese are now very angry," said Derek Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. "And I think there's going to be something the Bush administration may have to do to rectify it."

While the state-run Chinese media has edited out these gaffes, they are on the Internet in China.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events