William F. Buckley
We read of the protocols that confronted President Bush, even as they vexed President Hu Jintao. We safely assume that most of the questions were explored in private conversations between ambassadors, brought in for special coaching. A point was leaked/surmised to the effect that there was concern in Peking over the failure of President Bush to lay on a formal banquet, of the kind one associates with state visits.

Perhaps the Chinese protocol expert was resourceful enough to advise the Chinese Foreign Office of a very simple fact, namely, that President Bush does not like state dinners. The president had to face up to derivative complications, namely that sparing himself a state dinner required him otherwise to put on the dog, and one has to assume that President Hu took in the Byzantine meaning of it all.

The Internet vouchsafes a succinct guide to protocol in dealing with Chinese visitors. Do not mention "Taiwan" except in such a context as would suggest that you were talking about a province, as integral to China as, well, Tennessee is to the United States. Do not be surprised if the Chinese refer to gentlemen and ladies. Mr. Bush was warned not to stick Mr. Hu's calling card in his back pocket, and not to gesture with the fingers alone; the whole hand should be used to give expression to one's thoughts -- which brings to mind the warning that a Chinese nod does not necessarily mean "yes."

It would probably have been a good idea for Mr. Bush to ignore any protocolary advice that got in the way of his natural modes of expression, which are very American, which means very wholesome. Extraordinary precautions can lead to excesses. I learned once from a traveling companion in the U.S. Information Agency that his mission on this trip to Thailand was to advise the court that the official gift by Vice President Spiro Agnew, whose state visit was imminent, was not to be taken as a measure of the magnitude of American devotion and awe for the Siamese throne. The USIA official needed to explain that Congress sets a limit on the cost of presidential alms to foreign princes.


William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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