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Bush, Hu Pledge Cooperation As Protester Mars Ceremony

By Joseph Kahn


President Bush and China’s president, Hu Jintao, pledged to cooperate more closely on fighting nuclear proliferation and reducing trade imbalances on Thursday, but broke no new ground on the most sensitive issues that divide the two nations.

The meeting, the first at the White House between the two men since Hu became China’s top leader in 2002, was plagued by gaffes that upended months of painstaking diplomacy over protocol and staging.

Though administration officials said significant progress was made, especially on the economic front, the session also underscored the intractable nature of a long list of grievances between the world’s richest country and its fastest rising rival. No new agreements were announced after Oval Office negotiations and a working lunch.

The occasion was disrupted when an activist of the Falun Gong spiritual sect, accredited as a reporter for a sect-run publication to cover the morning ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, interrupted Hu’s address and upset the elaborate choreography the Chinese delegation had regarded as the most important trophy of Hu’s visit.

Screaming, “President Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong,” the middle-aged ethnic Chinese woman partially drowned out Hu. She continued shouting for more than a minute before security officers removed her.

Bush later apologized to Hu for the incident, White House officials said. But Chinese foreign ministry officials traveling with Hu canceled an afternoon briefing. One delegation member, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject publicly, described his superiors as outraged by the breach.

Compounding the gaffe, a White House announcer introducing the national anthems at the same ceremony mistakenly referred to China by the formal name of its arch-rival, Taiwan, the Republic of China. Mainland China is the People’s Republic of China.

China treats American support for Taiwan, a separately governed island Beijing claims as its sovereign territory, as the biggest irritant in bilateral relations. Even minuscule changes in the wording of diplomatic statements on the subject are often viewed as transformative on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

While it is unclear whether the Chinese will interpret the two incidents as simple mistakes or as overt efforts to embarrass Hu, there was no indication that the matter derailed the private discussions between the presidents that followed.

The two men emerged from the Oval Office and agreed to accept several questions from the media, a rarity for Hu, an aloof leader who almost never interacts with the press.

Bush said the countries would “deepen our cooperation in addressing threats to global security, including the nuclear ambitions of Iran, the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, the violence unleashed by terrorists and extremists and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

He acknowledged that the two men “do not agree on everything” but said, “We’re able to discuss our disagreements in a spirit of friendship and cooperation.”