For Hu Jintao, the substance of his summit meeting with President Bush will occur before it ever begins -- with the 21-gun salute the Chinese president received on the White House lawn. Broadcast back to China, the reception will be offered by the communist regime as proof that Mr. Bush regards Mr. Hu as a strategic partner in managing global affairs.
But there's another signal moment of the day's events. Contrary to the standard protocol for visiting heads of state, there will be no news conference at which American and Chinese journalists can ask unscripted questions.
The White House's acquiescence to a Chinese demand that Mr. Hu not be subjected to possibly embarrassing queries about political prisoners, religious freedom or censorship of the Internet symbolizes a major element of Mr. Bush's policy -- his willingness to relegate China's worsening performance on political freedom and human rights to a back burner.
Mr. Bush is said to be particularly moved by China's suppression of religious freedom, both among its 70 million Christians and the Buddhists of Tibet; we're told he's also focused on Beijing's policy of forcibly repatriating refugees from North Korea, in violation of international treaties.
Maybe Mr. Bush [mentioned] some of this. But even if he [did], we'll never hear Mr. Hu's response, thanks to the administration's exquisite sensitivity to Beijing's aversion to press freedom.
[From a Washington Post editorial]