Democrat Senator, Chinese Leader Keep Press at Bay

By Allison Aldrich and Keriann Hopkins | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

Washington ( - Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan refused to allow Cybercast News Service and other reporters to ask questions at a meeting they held Thursday as part of the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.

The Senate Finance Committee and the Chinese ministerial delegation were invited to attend the dialogue -- a yearly series of meetings that discuss the long-term bilateral economic relationship between the two nations.

But despite the critical importance to the U.S. of the talks, the news media were only allowed in for the first five minutes before the discussion began -- and were limited to photographs only, with no possibility for questions.

Just why Baucus was willing to have pictures taken with the Chinese vice premier, a prominent member of China's Communist Party and state council, but was unwilling to field questions about the hour-long discussion is unclear.

"We want to have a productive meeting," Finance Committee press secretary Carol Guthrie told Cybercast News Service. "There's no media availability besides photographs, and that decision comes from both sides."

One Chinese television reporter, who did not identify herself, told she had tried nine times to speak with the vice premier about the ongoing economic talks between America and China. She was denied for the tenth time after today's discussions with Baucus.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who also attended the conference, made a point to remain behind and answer a few questions from the press. Her press secretary, Brad Carroll, offered another explanation about the closed door nature of Baucus' meetings -- a ban on reporters is "typically" to ensure that participants do not show off for the cameras, he said.

Baucus, meanwhile, did not make time available afterwards for discussion. According to his press secretary, there are no plans for a news conference about the meeting anytime in the future.