The Great Wall was a photo-opportunity for every visiting leader; the symbol of the way China was–xenophobic, closed and mysterious–the wall kept ‘foreign devils’ and their ‘disruptive’ influences at bay for centuries.
Obama’s press corps had spinned the president’s latest visit as a lone pilgrimage. That is why it was amazing to see this negative opinion from a Chinese writer in the New York Times: “A lone man walking up the steep slope of the Great Wall. The picture is in stark contrast to those of other U.S. presidents who had their photographs taken at the Great Wall surrounded by flag-waving children or admiring citizens. … Mr. Obama could have waited until the next visit, when he could bring the first lady and the children. Instead, he went ahead by himself to pay tribute to China’s ancient culture. In return, the Chinese offered nothing, no popular receptions, not even the companionship of a senior Chinese leader.”
The president’s visit was far from a lonely pilgrimage–Chinese police officers guard the sentry tower and CIA agents are scattered throughout the crowd. His entourage and press corps were kept deliberately apart throughout the visit by some 300 highly trained Secret Service bodyguards who escorted Mr Obama throughout the week-long visit to Asia. One senior Pentagon officer who carried a black leather briefcase however stayed within 100ft of the President at all times par the protocol. (Inside the briefcase, if you are wondering is the Football, a metallic Zero Halliburton briefcase that contains the codes needed to launch a nuclear attack).
The first major visit by a Western leader to the Great Wall came in 1972 when Richard Nixon visited it and said: “This is a Great Wall, and only a great people with a great past could have a great wall, and such a great people with such a great wall will surely have a great future.” He was to be soon followed by Margaret Thatcher, Jimmy Carter, Queen of England, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes and Clinton in a series of high-profile visits.