‘Miscommunication’ over Chinese press conference

Updated 02 December 2018
0

‘Miscommunication’ over Chinese press conference

  • Five minutes before it was due to start, a Chinese man stood up to inform us that it was all a “miscommunication” and there would be no press gathering after all. Trade war averted perhaps?
  • With Donald Trump in town, the owner of the Ping Golf driving range must have thought his dreams had come true when the US president took an hour out to hit a few balls into the Silver River

After a while, the G20 Summit of world leaders in Buenos Aires just melts into surreality. Residual jetlag, early-morning starts, long days and lots of sensory stimuli send you into a state of hyper-awareness. This must have been how Alice felt in Wonderland.

“Never heard of yerba mate? You soon will,” runs the advertising slogan on the stall in the International Media Center (IMC), home to 2,500 journalists for the duration of the G20. 

“Argentinian yerba mate is one of the next big trends on the horizon, and it’s about to become your next superfood obsession,” said the promotional literature. 

It is a kind of tea native to Argentina, and “reduces inflammation, helps your body detox, protects your DNA (!) and can help with weight loss,” the ab blurb reads. 

I had a cup before heading off from the IMC for the 5-km trip to the Costa Salguero Center, the venue for the leaders gathering in Buenos Aires and a veritable fortress for the duration. Normal traffic is banned from the center, and all roads around it are closed to anyone not involved in the G20.

It was spooky driving beside the Rio de la Plata along what on a normal day would have been a busy six-lane highway. The only other vehicles were G20-branded. The only other people were heavily armed military and police, manning roadblocks every so often, boarding the media bus with enough kit to take out a regiment, asking to see your lanyard and waving you through with a finger flick. 

When you get to the Costa Salguero Center, the through-the-looking-glass experience intensifies. Some of the sights were just too coincidental to be true. With Donald Trump in town, the owner of the Ping Golf driving range must have thought his dreams had come true when the US president took an hour out to hit a few balls into the Silver River.

Maybe Trump would stop at the nearby Trixie diner, a pastiche of an old American railroad carriage eating-house complete with red neon lights offering hamburgers, hot dogs and pancakes?

Likewise, the BMW franchise saw a unique opportunity and quickly knocked up a promotional banner that screamed “Herzlich willkommen Frau Merkel” to the chancellor, maybe in the hope that she would be in the market for a 7 series on her final G20 trip as leader of Germany.

Inside the center, things got even more bizarre. I was there to attend a press conference by a Chinese minister, which looked interesting in view of the ongoing US-China trade confrontation. 

But five minutes before it was due to start, a Chinese man with an impeccable English accent stood up to inform us that it was all a “miscommunication” and there would be no press gathering after all. Trade war averted perhaps?

Disgruntled at the inconvenience, I went off to look for a sherpa. These legendary load-bearers are the brains and sweat behind big international gatherings. They do exist. I found one heading out of the “sherpas plenary room” on his way to the “sherpas lounge.” You could tell he was a sherpa because of the color of his lanyard.

I made an amiable joke about not being able to speak Nepalese, but he had obviously heard it a hundred times before and did not want to speak to the press anyway. He was far too busy, with the G20 communique still to be drafted and the midnight oil looming. He headed off with the look of a man bearing a heavy load.

For me, there was nothing for it but to leave the center, on a different route, equally deserted but with impromptu army barracks on either side of the road where bored-looking young men sat in large groups cleaning long-barrelled automatic weapons. 

I asked myself if it was all a dream. Ping Golf, Trixie and the sherpa; did any of that happen? I resolved to lay off the yerba mate in future.


Spain threatens to send national police to Catalonia after protests

Updated 10 min 13 sec ago
0

Spain threatens to send national police to Catalonia after protests

MADRID: Spain’s interior minister said he would send national police to Catalonia if local authorities did not do more to stop protests like the one that shut down major highways over the weekend.
Fernando Grande-Marlaska accused the local Catalan police of doing nothing to prevent pro-independence protesters blocking the AP-7 toll road, which runs up Spain’s Mediterranean coast, for more than 15 hours on Saturday.
The involvement of national police would be a contentious issue in the northeastern region which has its own administration and where polls suggest almost half the population wants to split away from Spain.
It would also stir memories of Madrid’s decision to send in a large contingent of national police in September last year after the Catalan government called an illegal independence referendum.
“Serious disruptions of public order and traffic security, such as those seen in the last few days, need to be dealt with by the regional police,” the minister wrote to his regional counterpart in an open letter late on Monday.
“If this does not happen ... the government will order an intervention by the state police,” he added.
Catalonia’s government would respond to the questions raised in the letter, spokeswoman Elsa Artadi said on Tuesday, without saying when or going into further detail. She repeated calls for dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona.
Spain’s previous conservative government took control of the region when the regional administration unilaterally declared independence following the Oct. 1, 2017 referendum.
Many of the Catalan politicians that took part in the declaration are in prison awaiting trial for rebellion or in exile.
Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez — who came to power in June — has said he is open to a referendum on greater autonomy and has promised to lay out detailed plans in parliament on Wednesday.
But Grande-Marlaska said the local authorities had to show they could keep order and prevent a repeat of Saturday’s protests.
“It was observed that there was no intervention (by the regional police) ... a reality that is difficult to deny,” he said in a radio interview on Tuesday morning.