China’s first couple, President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan, kicked off their Caribbean-Latin America tour last Friday; their first stop was the small but oil-rich nation of Trinidad and Tobago. While Xi expressed hopes for strengthened Sino-Caribbean relations, and Peng was snapped happily playing the local steel drums at a dinner, Trinidadians were embarrassed by their government’s handling of the high-profile visit.
According to the Trinidad Express, Reginald Dumas, the retired head of the country's Public Service, described Xi and Peng’s three-day trip as riddled with “particularly glaring protocol lapses.”
These lapses were so apparent that he even received emails regarding inadequate preparation for Xi.
“You had the Chinese President arriving in rain. I would have thought there would have been some kind of canopy over the red carpet… there was none. I was also surprised to see the President (Xi) himself holding an umbrella over his head and that of his wife’s head. I have never seen this before. Where were our (protocol) people?”
(Clearly, Dumas wasn’t aware that carrying one's own umbrella has become somewhat of a thing for presidents lately.)
Another issue Dumas mentioned was that after disembarking from the plane, Xi was not walking, as is customary, next to his counterpart, Trinidad’s President, Anthony Carmona. Instead Xi led the pack alone, and behind him trailed Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, with Carmona behind her. “What was going on? What is this?” Dumas asked.
“We have been making a lot of protocol lapses and I am confident that a lot of them are totally avoidable,” Dumas said. He added that such a high-profile leader visiting the small nation brings a lot of global attention, and the glitches could potentially hurt Trinidad's reputation overseas. “I don’t like to see these kinds of things because it damages the image of the country.”
Dumas also noted that it is his understanding that the nation’s chief protocol officer, Lenore Dorset, was no longer in the position, possibly explaining the lack of detailed planning that went into the event. While these details seem mundane and perhaps unnoticeable to the untrained eye, Dumas said almost every step of a presidential visit is planned out.
“One would always make mistakes… but these are avoidable mistakes. And as someone who has spent so long in the Foreign Service at home and abroad, I am embarrassed,” Dumas said of the visit. “This is not rocket science.”