[FOUNTAIN]Dinner diplomacy

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[FOUNTAIN]Dinner diplomacy

Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, had troubles with his aides right after he was inaugurated in 1829. Such discord is very unusual, and Mr. Jackson especially did not get along very well with his running mate, Vice President John C. Calhoun. Mr. Jackson often ignored the vice president's attempts to strengthen the power of state governments.
Old Hickory resorted to an extreme measure. He stopped having Cabinet meetings. Instead, he called outside friends and asked them for advice over dinner. The friends came to be known as the Kitchen Cabinet. One of the key members of the unofficial group was journalist Francis Blair. After he contributed a series of columns supporting Andrew Jackson in a local paper in Kentucky, the president took notice of him.
In 1837, Mr. Blair bought a mansion across from the White House. Built in 1824, the mansion was the center of the social life in Washington, frequented by numerous influential guests. Abraham Lincoln also made secret visits to talk with Mr. Blair.
In 1942, the U.S. government purchased the house and turned it into a guesthouse for foreign heads of state making official visits to Washington D.C. The mansion was formally named “Blair House.” It is also where Washington’s Cold War policy was born. Harry Truman spent four years of his presidency there while the White House was renovated and rebuilt. At Blair House, he announced a number of historic policy decisions, including the American involvement in the Korean War.
On his tour of the United States, Chinese President Hu Jintao will stay in the Blair House, starting today. The arrangement was made after Mr. Hu pushed for a state visit. At first, Washington offered a working-level visit at President Bush’s ranch at Crawford, Texas. The protocol was compromised. Mr. Hu will stay at Blair House and be welcomed with a 21-gun salute when he arrives at the White House. However, the usual White House dinner banquet will instead be a luncheon, and the Chinese Flag will not be hoisted on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.
Beijing calls Mr. Hu’s visit a state visit, but Washington refers to it as a working-level visit. China is conscious about the reputation of its leader, while the United States is concerned about domestic politics, and citizens who are wary of China. “The rain has stopped, but the weather is not yet fair.” The weather map drawn by Qian Qichen in his memoir “Ten Episodes in China’s Diplomacy” in 2003 may be in effect now.


by Oh Young-hwan

The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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