WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Obama tours Forbidden City

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2009 4:57 AM

President Barack Obama played tourist Tuesday on his first visit ever to China, spending nearly an hour touring the Forbidden City and its maze of red buildings and cobblestone courtyards.

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," said Obama, who had changed from his suit and tie into a sweater and brown shearling jacket to head out into Beijing's frigid weather. Snow dotted roofs, and the courtyards had patches of ice. Obama kept his hands in his pockets to ward off the chill.

Obama said the Forbidden City was "a magnificent place to visit." He said he wanted to come back with his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and their two girls, Malia and Sasha. Mrs. Obama did not accompany the president on the trip.

He said Shanghai, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall were must-see stops for him this time, but that next time he hoped to visit other parts of the vast country.

Shanghai was Obama's first stop in China. His sightseeing was to continue Wednesday with a tour of the Great Wall.

Before concluding his visit to the Forbidden City, Obama sat down and wrote at length in the VIP visitor's book. The White House did not immediately disclose what he wrote.

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Obama's visit 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.

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Amid discussions of economic challenges the U.S. and China face came the noodle-making.

At a private dinner Monday night, Obama and Hu discussed history, the importance of education and the hurdles to nurturing prosperous economies, a White House statement said.

Between the heavy talk and elaborate courses of prawns and lamb chops came a demonstration of Chinese noodle-making, which, the statement said, "the American guests enjoyed."