The net effect is that the trip, which isn’t expected to yield major substantive agreements, isn’t likely to give Mr. Obama much of a symbolic victory either. Longtime observers say the visit, which ends Wednesday, is one of the most tightly controlled in recent memory, with Mr. Obama afforded none of the opportunities to reach Chinese people given to his two predecessors.
“The mystery is the lack of public contact,” said David Shambaugh, a professor of Chinese studies at George Washington University, currently on a fellowship in China. “He’s a populist politician but he’s not getting any interaction with Chinese people.”
According to U.S. and Chinese officials, the itinerary has been sharply contested by both sides. The U.S. wanted a chance for Mr. Obama’s telegenic personality to shine through and make a case for greater freedoms, but Chinese officials pushed back, according to a Chinese media insider. The Chinese side was wary of making Mr. Obama look more accessible than China’s own politicians, who appear on television only during highly scripted moments, such as inspection tours.