Live

Watch CBSN Live

Bush Apologizes To Hu For Protester

President Bush expressed personal regret to Chinese President Hu Jintao for a protest during an elaborate welcoming ceremony on the White House lawn Thursday.

Mr. Bush later addressed the matter when he met with Hu in the Oval Office. "He just said this was unfortunate and I'm sorry it happened," said Dennis Wilder, acting senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff.

CBS News chief White House correspondent Jim Axelrod reports the woman was a protester with the Falun Gong movement, a group that says it is persecuted in China for its religious beliefs. She yelled at President Bush, "Stop him from killing. Stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong."

Chinese state television didn't run the demonstration and the BBC's report about the censoring was censored, adds Axelrod.

Wilder said Hu was gracious in accepting Mr. Bush's apology. The two leaders moved on in their talks and it was not mentioned again in several hours of meetings. Hu and Mr. Bush sat next to each other at an elaborate luncheon, a departure from traditional protocol, which would have them at different tables.

Chinese leaders place high importance on symbolism and protocol. White House officials have worked with Chinese counterparts for months on every detail of Hu's visit.

"I would be extremely surprised if the Chinese blamed us for this," Wilder said.

The woman began shouting from the top of a camera stand that had been erected in front of the two leaders on the South Lawn.

The Secret Service identified her as Wenyi Wang, 47, and charged Wang with disorderly conduct. A Secret Service official tells CBS News the U.S. Attorney is weighing a further charge of "willingly intimidating or disrupting a foreign official."

Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin said Wang had gained access to the event with a temporary White House pass and had been cleared through all the appropriate levels of security.

Stephen Gregory, a spokesman for the Falun Gong-affiliated newspaper The Epoch Times, said she had received a press credential through the newspaper. He identified her as a doctor with a specialty in pathology, a Falun Gong practitioner based in New York.

She shouted in Chinese and in heavily accented English: "President Bush, stop him from killing" and "President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong."

Mr. Bush, standing next to Hu, leaned over and whispered to him, "You're OK," indicating the Chinese leader should proceed with his opening remarks. Hu, who had paused briefly when the shouting began, resumed speaking.


The protester was waving a banner with the red and yellow colors used by Falun Gong, a banned religious movement in China. She kept shouting for several minutes before Secret Service agents were able to make their way to her position at the top of the camera stand. They led her off the stand.

A photographer who was standing next to the protester tried momentarily to quiet her by putting his hand in front of her mouth.

"It's hugely embarrassing," said Derek Mitchell, a former Asia adviser at the Pentagon and now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China "must know that this Bush administration is good at controlling crowds for themselves, and the fact that they couldn't control this is going to play to their worst fears and suspicions about the United States, into mistrust about American intentions toward China."

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said he was too busy to talk when contacted for comment on the heckling.

Gregory, the spokesman for the Falun Gong-affiliated newspaper, said, "We expected her to act as a reporter; we didn't expect her to protest. None of us had any idea that Dr. Wang was planning this."

Meanwhile, no breakthroughs occurred during Hu's first visit to the White House as the president of China. And both he and Mr. Bush acknowledged at a picture-taking session that much work remained to be done and that the two sides would strive for progress in these areas.

Hu, aware of the growing U.S. impatience with America's record $202 billion trade deficit with China, offered general promises to address the yawning gap. But his comments were likely to do little to cool calls in Congress for punitive tariffs on Chinese products.

"We have taken measures and will continue to take steps to resolve the issue," he said.

Mr. Bush put a good face on the meeting.

"He recognizes that a trade deficit with the United States is substantial and it is unsustainable," the president said of Hu. "Obviously the Chinese government takes the currency issue seriously, and so do I."

A Bush aide put things more plainly to CBS News: "We have substantial issues with the regime."

Mr. Bush also had been hoping to get Beijing to take on more than a mediator's role in efforts to bring North Korea back to six-nation talks aimed at halting its nuclear weapons program. Asked what more his country could do to resolve the dispute, Hu said that China "has always been making constructive efforts to de-nuclearize the Korean peninsula."

The two presidents had not been expected to take questions. But an agreement to take questions from two reporters from each country came at the last minute and produced more than a half-hour of back-and-forth as the leaders sat in front of a fireplace.

View CBS News In