The skirmishes between Chinese and US officials when US President Barack Obama arrived in Hangzhou for the G20 summit on Saturday have been exaggerated by some US officials and attracted undue attention from Western media outlets, dismaying Chinese netizens and observers who viewed the hype as fresh evidence of the arrogance of some in the West.
According to reports, an exchange of words took place on the tarmac as soon as Air Force One arrived in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, after Obama disembarked from his plane from a rarely used alternate exit without a red carpet rolled out, though an unnamed Chinese foreign ministry official told the South China Morning Post that the US side had turned down a rolling staircase provided by the Chinese side.
Obama's National Security Advisor Susan Rice also had a little spat with a Chinese official who stopped her as she crossed a media rope line and walked toward the US motorcade. Later, another argument also purportedly occurred over US press access to the venue of Obama's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Although Xi and Obama reached a long list of agreements on a wide range of topics such as the economy, security and climate change in bilateral talks, Western media did not seem to find these achievements as intriguing as the tiffs, into which they immediately read deeply.
The Guardian used the headline "Barack Obama 'deliberately snubbed' by Chinese in chaotic arrival at G20," and quoted experts who accused China of deliberately arranging a welcome that made the American delegation "look diminished and weak."
Reuters wrote that the row at the Hangzhou airport was "an awkward start" for the US and China, while The Washington Post said the spat was "a fitting reflection of how the relationship between these two world powers has become frayed and fraught with frustration."
Hua Chunying, spokesperson for China's foreign ministry, struck back against these insinuations, telling a daily news briefing on Monday, "These media, are highly unprofessional as they fabricated news and added wild guesses to it without getting to the bottom of this issue. This would only consolidate the impression that some Western media are arrogant and big-headed."
Many Chinese netizens agreed with Hua's sentiment. "Your plane landed on our Chinese territory. You have to follow our rules. The US has been so arrogant," commented one Net user on Sina Weibo.
Some in the US still consider their country to be other countries' Big Brother and the most important player in the G20, Li Haidong, a professor with the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times. With unreasonable reports, the US media are trying to put the US above others at the summit, Li said.
"These media outlets totally disregard China's efforts to take security precautions for such a huge gathering and to play a constructive role in advancing relations with the US, and instead they aggressively make a fuss over the spats. They are muddying the water," Li added.
But Zhang Jiadong, a professor with the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, believes China should make some adjustments to resolve disagreements over details among the two countries' staff members, which were likely behind the row.
China has done its utmost to serve and provide convenience to the delegations and media of all countries and has tried its best to meet the requirements of all delegations, Hua stressed. "Meanwhile, visiting countries should respect and conform to such practices and arrangements," she said.
Obama appeared willing to downplay the disagreement. At a news conference on Sunday, he asked media not to "overcrank the significance" of the row and admitted that such things often happen, since the size of the US delegation is "a little overwhelming."
"The arguments over security precautions actually reflect the conflicts between China's idea of security first and the US perception of prioritizing media access," Yang Xiyu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times.
He added that although the spat is no barometer for China-US relations, the amount of coverage does show some tension in the ties.