High-priced relief at the Great Wall

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 June, 1998, 12:00am

NO expense has been spared making the American first family feel at home in China, our luxury fittings correspondent writes.

The First Husband gets only the standard Head of State treatment in matters of plumbing, during today's visit to the Great Wall. However, the power behind the throne, Hillary Rodham Clinton, gets her own specially equipped Western-style throne-room.

The toilet, said to have cost US$23,000 (about HK$178,000), is housed in a newly constructed air-conditioned building of its own and comes fully furnished with a seat. It will no doubt retain its position as one of the nation's most prestigious VIP restrooms for years to come.

A similarly regal toilet built for Richard Nixon in 1972 was removed later to make way for a road-widening project.

Status-conscious members of the press corps following the President through China have faced a stiff test after finding themselves graded in terms of physical proximity to Mr Clinton.

The least privileged get a standard press card. One rung up is the the more prestigious White House briefing card. But what really counts is the rare and coveted 'get close card', which authorises a reporter to stand five metres from the great man.

The 50 'get close cards' are divided equally between Chinese and Americans. Among the 25 cards for Chinese reporters, eight were doled out to reporters from Xian, who had not even mentioned that the President would be visiting the city before his arrival.

Hong Kong got only two: one for a TVB cameraman and one for ATV.

However, one reporter who will never be lost for inspiration, no matter how far he is forced to stand from the scene of the action, is RTHK's man on the spot, Francis Moriarty. With a flash of analytical insight yesterday, he told listeners: 'The summit is not a slugfest; neither is it a lovefest.' When the Clintons finally get to Hong Kong on Thursday, thank goodness they will be landing at Kai Tak and not braving the arrival hall at Chek Lap Kok.

Worried tourist association officials have been fretting that dazed and jet-lagged visitors may get confused as they leave Customs and are confronted with signs indicating the locations of various meeting areas.

They claim the signs are pointless, as the airport is organised so that walking straight ahead from your arrival gate should get you to the right baggage-retrieval belt, Customs desk and meeting area without distracting directions elsewhere.

Still, it would be embarrassing if the President went to Meeting Area A, while the welcoming party, media and security were at Area B.

Once through Immigration and into town, the main worry of the Clinton handlers is to ensure that their charge is not photographed in front of the Lippo Centre, which might spark embarrassing reflections on the source of certain Democratic Party funds and links with the Lippo Group's vice-chairman, James Riady.

Oddly, the local branch of Democrats Abroad had originally scheduled last week's regular meeting for, yes, the Lippo Centre. A last-minute change, apparently unrelated to public relations issues, moved it to Pomeroy's restaurant instead.