Argentine hospitality, from popcorn trucks to prayer rooms

Updated 01 December 2018
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Argentine hospitality, from popcorn trucks to prayer rooms

  • What the signs say in English is a “quiet room” is translated into Spanish as a “sale de oracion,” and turns out to be a prayer room for local and visiting Muslim journalists

I have the feeling that, whether there are geopolitical fireworks at the G20 summit or not, the event is in for a pretty good press. The Argentine organizers have made the best of an unpromising situation and gone out of their way to keep the media happy.
Planners were faced with a big logistical problem in the early stages of preparing for the event. The chosen site for the actual summit — the Costa Seguero Center on the shores of the Rio de la Plata — was not big enough to hold both the summit leaders, with their enormous entourages and teams of “sherpa” assistants, as well as the 2,500 or so journalists attending from around the world.
They decided to split the media from the summiteers, and move the journalists to Parque Norte, a sports complex about 5 km farther upriver. Maybe there was a security element in the decision, too, with no pesky journalists to contend with on the main site in a city that has gone into lockdown for the summit.
When we were first shown the arrangements, I must admit I was disappointed. From a journalist’s point of view, these kinds of events always work best when you can mingle with the stars, grab a few words on the sidelines, and generally rub shoulders with the movers and shakers.
This is why Davos works so well: You never know who you will bump into in the rabbit runs of the Kongresshalle. So when I heard that the media in Buenos Aires were to be “banished” to Parque Norte, my heart sank. Two days of watching a big screen with one eye on a “live” feed from the center? Ho hum. It would have been much better to be at the thick of a media scrum in the summit center. But there are many compensations at Parque Norte. The facilities are mind-boggling. The main press room is about the biggest I have ever seen, an aircraft hangar of a chamber oozing the latest in bling gadgetry.
And, something not to be taken for granted in Argentina, as I have learned since I arrived a couple of days ago: The Internet works much better than it does outside the media enclave.
The organizers have promised to make leaders and their officials available at Parque by driving them up to the media hub for interviews, or by driving media down the road to the center.
Let’s see how that one works in practice, but there was a steady stream of senior Argentine politicians on parade yesterday.
What will probably go a long way to winning over the hearts and minds of the assembled scribblers are the incidental facilities at Parque Norte. You want cool VR displays in a fake jungle setting with books dangling artistically from the ceiling? You want a cafeteria serving splendid Argentine produce around the clock? You want a drinks dispenser providing local specialities on tap? How about a bright red popcorn truck?
And, this being football-crazy Argentina, you want your own dedicated media football pitch? You’ve got all these and more at Parque Norte.
It is not just the fripperies, either. Some serious thought has gone into making visiting journalists, from many different countries and cultures, as welcome and comfortable as possible. What the signs say in English is a “quiet room” is translated into Spanish as a “sale de oracion,” and turns out to be a prayer room for local and visiting Muslim journalists.
Will the world’s hard-nosed hacks be swayed by such little acts of kindness? That remains to be seen. But they will probably be less inclined to put the boot into the host nation as a result. I’m going to gauge the mood of the international media about their temporary home in Buenos Aires at an evening welcome reception, complete with tango display, and will report back.


China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

Updated 37 min 35 sec ago
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China’s Xi Jinping to visit North Korea this week ahead of G20

  • Xi JingPing will be in Pyongyang at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
  • Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year

BEIJING: Xi Jinping will make the first trip to North Korea by a Chinese president in 14 years this week, state media said Monday, as Beijing tightens relations with Pyongyang amid tensions with the United States.
Xi will visit Pyongyang on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said Chinese broadcaster CCTV.
The timing is likely to raise eyebrows at the White House as it comes one week before the G20 summit in Japan, where US President Donald Trump expects to meet with Xi to discuss their protracted trade war.
Analysts say Xi could now use North Korea as leverage in talks with Trump.
China and North Korea have worked to improve relations in the past year after they deteriorated as Beijing backed a series of UN sanctions against its Cold War-era ally over its nuclear activities.
The North’s leader Kim Jong Un has traveled to China — his country’s sole major ally — four times in the past year to meet Xi.
But Xi had yet to reciprocate until now. It will be the first trip there by a Chinese president since Hu Jintao went in 2005.
“China-DPRK relations have opened a new chapter,” CCTV said, adding that Xi and Kim have reached a “series of important consensus” in past meetings.
Xi and Kim will “push for new progress” in a political resolution of the Korean peninsula issue, according to CCTV, which cited an unnamed official.
With Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over trade, China is keen to remind Trump of its influence in Pyongyang, with whom his nuclear negotiations — a point of pride for the US president, who faces an election next year — are also at a deadlock.
“The signal would be that China remains a critical stakeholder,” said Jingdong Yuan, a professor specializing in Asia-Pacific security and Chinese foreign policy at the University of Sydney.
“You cannot ignore China and China can play a very important role,” he told AFP. Xi could thus use the trip as a “bargaining chip” in the US-China trade war, he added.
According to an informed source in Pyongyang, Beijing was keen to arrange a visit to North Korea ahead of any encounter between Xi and Trump at the G20 summit — with logistics finalized only last month.
In recent days, hundreds of soldiers and workers have been sprucing up the Friendship Tower in Pyongyang, pruning bushes and replanting flowerbeds on the approaches to the monument, which commemorates the millions of Chinese troops Mao Zedong sent to save the forces of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, from defeat during the Korean War.
A detachment of soldiers in white jackets was also seen outside the Liberation War Museum — which includes a section on the Chinese contribution — potentially indicating that it may be on Xi’s itinerary.
The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said it had learned about Xi’s travel plans last week.
“We hope that this visit will contribute to the early resumption of negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula which will lead to the settlement of lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” the Blue House said.
It will be Xi’s first trip to North Korea since taking power in 2012, though he visited the country as vice president in 2008.
In contrast, Kim Jong Un has gone to China multiple times over the past year — an unbalanced exchange that has not gone unnoticed in Pyongyang.
According to diplomatic sources in the North Korean capital, after Kim’s many trips to meet Xi, there were increasingly strong feelings in Pyongyang that the Chinese leader should reciprocate for reasons of saving face.
“From a North Korean perspective, it’s time for Chairman Xi to visit,” said John Delury, an expert on US-China relations and Korean Peninsula affairs at Yonsei University in Seoul.
“They do keep score and it’s like four to zero,” he recently told AFP. “So far, Xi has approached China-North Korea relations very much as a function of US-China relations and kind of calculated in terms of that.”
The visit also comes as negotiations between Trump and Kim have soured after a second summit in February broke up without a deal, failing to agree on what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since then, Kim has accused Washington of acting in “bad faith” and given it until the end of the year to change its approach.
Still, the nuclear situation is “under control for now,” said Delury.
“That creates a space, a window where Xi could make a visit without expecting like a missile test the day he leaves or something like that,” he said.