As Vice President Joe Biden kicks off a four-day visit to China today, he's stressing the need for economic cooperation between the two countries and reassuring the largest foreign holder of Treasury securities that its investments are safe. The goodwill tour--launched in the wake of the debt ceiling debate and S&P's downgrade of the U.S. credit rating--has only just begun, but it's already produced its share of bizarre moments:
- Chinese Officials Tussle With Foreign Reporters: During a meeting between Biden and Chinese Vice President (and president-in-waiting) Xi Jingping--Chinese officials locked arms and began shoving foreign reporters out of the Eastern Hall of the Great Hall of the People only minutes into Biden's opening remarks, a show of force they repeated in Biden's next meeting with the chair of the National People's Congress. Why the aggressive behavior? Michael A. Memoli of Los Angeles Times, who "was in a shoving match with a larger Chinese official," says Biden's "famously loquacious style" may have irked Chinese officials. "A Chinese press aide said Biden was going on far too long for their liking," the paper explains. "But in fact, including the consecutive translation of his comments from English to Chinese, Biden spoke only two or three minutes longer than Xi had." The Reuters shot above shows the first bilateral meeting.
- Biden Takes in a Basketball Game: Shortly after arriving in Beijing on Wednesday evening, the vice president paid a surprise visit to a basketball game between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Shanxi Brave Dragons of the Chinese Basketball Association (the Hoyas won). The move already has China watchers comparing Biden's "basketball diplomacy" to President Richard Nixon's "ping-pong diplomacy." In the picture below, Biden is seated to the right of the referee, next to Georgetown President John DeGioia.
- Biden Chooses Noodles Over Pig Intestines: When Biden stopped for lunch at a small family-run restaurant in Beijing, he declined the house specialty of Chao Gan (pork liver, lungs, and intestines served in a broth and slurped from a bowl), according to AFP. Under the headline, "US Vice President Has Noodles for Lunch," China Daily notes that Biden and his guests instead ordered five bowls of noodles with fried bean and meat sauce, ten steamed stuffed buns, a cucumber salad, a yam salad, a potato salad, and some coca-cola, all for 100 yuan (around $16) with a 20 percent tip. The New Yorker's Evan Osnos says Biden made a "bold statement" by choosing to dine at a restaurant that serves such gritty dishes. He quotes one reviewer who described one item on the menu as "chunks of pork intestine and lungs with a slight crunch from the bronchioles" and a taste that "is somewhere between stinky and pungent." In this photo from Getty, Biden appears to be mustering all his energy to applaud the food.
- Biden Jokes About His Hair, Office Size: According to pool reports, Biden told a member of the Chinese delegation "Remember what I told you last time: if I had hair like yours I'd be president" and joked around with the chair of the National People's Congress about the size of the room in which they met. "I used to have an important job when I was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. I had a big office, large staff. Then I became vice president," Biden observed. "Not sure how well it translated," the pool report added in parentheses.
Correction: This post originally stated that Vice President Biden was seated next to Gary Locke, the new U.S. ambassador to China, at the basketball game in Beijing. As pointed out by commenter Ksenya Belooussova below, Biden was in fact seated next to Georgetown President John DeGioia.