Details of the high-profile visit of China’s vice president have been so zealously guarded that even the time of his arrival was unclear to many until his plane actually touched down in Washington Monday afternoon.
Xi Jinping’s trip to the United States is seen as critical to his expected ascension next year as China’s next president. As a result, his U.S. tour has been the subject of frenzied work for months by staff at the Chinese Embassy in Washington and its consulates in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Planners have kept the details of who he will meet and where under wraps for weeks. Even now, elements of his agenda, including during his last stop in Los Angeles on Friday, have not been released publicly.
News of Xi’s arrival around 3 p.m. Monday was confirmed in an official statement by Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, which carried a written statement from the vice president: “I have brought with me the sincere greetings of President Hu Jintao and the Chinese people to the American people,” he said.
U.S. officials, seeking to respect Chinese protocol, would only confirm his arrival off the record.
The rest of Xi’s visit will likely be similarly scripted — heavy on protocol and heavily restricted when it comes to access to the media and the public. No press conferences are planned.
The goal, for the Chinese, is to protect Xi from potential embarrassment, especially from protestors.
“We know their pattern, it’s predictable,” said Tenzin Dolkar of Students for a Free Tibet, one of several groups planning to protest in front of the White House on Tuesday when Xi visits. “But even just knowing what day he’ll be here is more than enough. We know his haunts.”
Even as official Washington prepared to welcome Xi, activists and interest groups have been organizing their own efforts, campaigning to draw attention to everything from fair trade and China’s fixed exchange rates to its one-child policy and its detention of dissidents.
Last year, during a visit by President Hu Jintao, Dolkar’s group erected two huge Tibetan skeletons on Lafayette Park, outside the White House, to symbolize the metaphorical skeletons in Hu’s closet. The White House erected a large screen on its lawn and had security eventually push protestors out of the park and farther onto surrounding streets, Dolkar said.
Like Hu did, Xi will meet with the president and vice president at the White House Tuesday morning. Then he will attend a lunch in his honor at the State Department and meet with top Pentagon officials and business leaders in the afternoon.
On Wednesday, he is expected to give an economic policy luncheon address — one of the few occasions he will be speaking extensively in public during the trip — before flying to Muscatine, Iowa, to reunite with individuals he met during a 1985 agricultural mission. On Thursday, Xi will focus largely on agricultural issues, with a symposium organized by the USDA. On Friday he will rejoin Biden in Los Angeles to visit a school teaching Chinese and meet with members of the business community.
Lastly, for those elite protesters willing to shell out serious money for courtside seats, Xi is also widely rumored to be planning a last stop at a Lakers game.