Xi, who rarely takes questions from the press, refused to directly answer several very tough questions from the New York Times about Obama’s Asia pivot and access for foreign journalists, surprising even the president, who looked at the U.S. press and just shrugged.
While not entirely unexpected, it was quite a sight to see.
“Our strong relationship with China is at the heart of our pivot,” Obama said.
Then, it was Xi’s turn to respond. He said nothing, acting as if the questions from the Times had never been raised. Instead, he went directly to a question, no doubt pre-screened, from the Chinese press.
Xi did eventually briefly address foreign press access in China, pointing the finger back at the press.
“China protects our citizen’s freedom of expression and the normal rights and interests of media organizations in accordance with the law. On the other hand, media outlets need to obey China’s laws and regulations,” Xi explained at the very end of his answer to the question from the Chinese press.
“When a car breaks down on the road, we need to get under the car to see where the problem lies. And when a certain issue is raised as a problem there must be a reason. In Chinese we have a saying, ‘the party which has created the problem should be the one to resolve it.’ So perhaps we should look into the problem to see where the cause lies,” he said.
China has gone to great lengths to carefully craft and choreograph Obama and Xi’s appearances together. But as is often the case with these summits, it’s what happens on the sidelines and what you don’t hear that’s often the most interesting.