Obama charisma? China keeps it in tight check.
On first Obama trip to China, the message is clear: This is about China's rise, not Obama popularity.
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"Special foreign affairs" explained the closure to the public, in a curt notice taped to a window of the police car that blocked the entrance to the symbol of China's splendid past. Disappointed would-be visitors were left to guess that the president of the United States was coming.
The vague wording of the notice was in keeping with the official tone that the Chinese authorities have adopted for Mr. Obama's first visit here. Tuesday's People's Daily, the official organ of the ruling Communist party, for example, relegated coverage of the president's activities in Shanghai to the bottom left-hand corner of the front page.
It splashed coverage of the funeral of a former deputy prime minister across the top of the page.
"They don't want this trip to be about Obama," says Russell Leigh Moses, a political analyst here. "They want it to be about China's rise."
On a day that mixed high affairs of state with simpler tourism, the president got his only chance to speak directly to the mass of the Chinese people. Alongside Chinese President Hu Jintao, he made televised comments at the end of the two leaders' three hour meeting.
No displays of charm allowed
On his three-day trip to China, Obama will not be afforded the opportunity he has enjoyed on other foreign tours – such as when he addressed a rapturous crowd of 200,000 in Berlin – to project his personable charm.
This is not altogether unsurprising. Chinese political protocol and tradition leave little room for rock stars, or even for much direct contact between leaders and their people. Chinese citizens do not expect to get close to their top leaders.
The current crop of Chinese rulers seems especially attached to the pomp of major speeches and parades in preference to the give-and-take of debate with the citizenry.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, sometimes known popularly as "Grandpa Wen," has been known to display the common touch; it was he who waded into earthquake stricken villages in Sichuan last year to comfort grieving families and reassure them that their government cared.