Obama Mixes Pleasure With Business; Tours Forbidden City

November 17, 2009 - 10:04 AM
President Obama is taking time to play tourist on his first visit ever to China.
Beijing (AP) - Playing tourist on his first visit ever to China, President Barack Obama drew a chilly comparison between the Chinese capital and his Illinois hometown.
 
"I have to say I didn't realize that Beijing gets as cold as my hometown of Chicago," the president said Tuesday just before sitting down for a one-on-one meeting with Wu Bangguo, chairman of China's Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
 
Earlier in the day, Obama had spent nearly an hour touring the Forbidden City's maze of red buildings and cobblestone courtyards. With snow dotting the roofs and patches of ice lining courtyards, Obama bundled up against the frigid weather in a sweater and brown shearling jacket. He kept his hands in his pockets to ward off the chill.
 
Built in the 1400s, the Forbidden City once was home to 24 Chinese emperors who ruled the country for nearly 500 years, between 1420 and 1911. The former imperial palace is now known as the Palace Museum, and is open to Beijing's visitors.
 
"It's a testament to the greatness of Chinese history," Obama said while on tour. He pronounced it "a magnificent place to visit" and said he wanted to come back with his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha. Mrs. Obama did not accompany the president on the trip.
 
The visit, he said later, was a beautiful "reminder of the incredible traditions and heritage of the Chinese people."
 
Before leaving, Obama wrote at length in the VIP visitor's book. The White House did not immediately disclose what he wrote.
 
Obama's sightseeing was to continue Wednesday with a tour of the Great Wall.
 
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Dinner is served.
 
A large, circular table draped in yellow was the setting for a state dinner China held in Obama's honor in the Golden Room of the Great Hall of the People.
 
Women in white served guests at the head table, including Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
 
Women in pink served guests at a dozen smaller tables arranged around the larger one, making for about 150 guests in all.
 
They dined on chicken soup with bean curd, Chinese-style beef steak, stir-fried wild rice stem and asparagus, and roast grouper -- all washed down with red and white Chinese wine.
 
The playlist for a Chinese army band providing the entertainment included a curious mix of U.S. and Chinese songs. Among them: "America the Beautiful," "We Are the World," "I Just Called to Say I Love You," "In the Mood" and the Chinese folk song, "Embroidering a Pouch."
 
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Obama's visit to China was meant to feature cooperation with President Hu Jintao. For Hu, that apparently meant this planet and beyond.
 
Both men used the same carefully chosen phrase -- "positive, cooperative and comprehensive" -- to describe the careful, vital, sometimes testy relationship between their nations.
 
And when Hu started naming all the areas in which the U.S. and China can work together, his list knew no boundaries.
 
The economy. Climate change. Energy. The environment. Counterterrorism. Law enforcement. Science. Technology. Outer space. Civil aviation. High-speed rail. Agriculture. Health. Military.
 
Outer space?
 
"The Chinese side is willing to work with the U.S. side to ensure the sustained, sound and steady growth of this relationship," Hu said.
 
There's plenty of ground to cover, apparently.
 
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Orders to prevent sales of T-shirts showing Obama dressed like communist revolutionary Mao Zedong are in force during the president's visit -- and Chinese officials mean it, as a CNN reporter found out.
 
Correspondent Emily Chang reported that she went searching for Oba-Mao souvenirs at Shanghai's Yatai Xinyang market. Finding none, she pulled out a T-shirt she bought before the ban was imposed to record a report in the market.
 
Security guards pounced, telling her she did not have permission to film there and trying to grab the shirt, according to a report on CNN's Web site.
 
Chang was detained for two hours before being let go, with the shirt, the report said.
 
A cottage industry in T-shirts and other Oba-Mao trinkets catering mainly to foreign tourists has thrived in recent months. Bans such as the one that commercial regulators ordered in recent weeks are usually temporary. When U.S. or European government officials come to Beijing for trade talks, local markets typically remove copies of brand-name designer clothes -- until the foreign negotiators leave town.