Was US President Donald Trump at some point during his visit to China nearly denied access to the nuclear launch codes that every American president carries with him always?
A report in the US website Axios says last November in Beijing a Chinese security official had tried to prevent Trump's military aide from carrying to Trump the briefcase of nuclear codes, popularly known as the nuclear football. And the chief of staff John Kelly intervened, and the incident ended in a scuffle between Chinese and American security officials.
On November 9, 2017, Trump visited Beijing's Great Hall of the People along with Kelly. But when the US military aide carrying the football tried to enter the Great Hall, Chinese security officials are said to have stopped him. Kelly, who was already inside, rushed out on being informed and is said to have asked the American officials to keep walking. "We're moving in," Kelly said, according to the Axios report.
But a Chinese security official tried to stop Kelly, even putting his hand on the former Marine general. Kelly pushed away his hand, and a US secret service agent tackled the Chinese official to the ground.
The nuclear codes are always carried around by US presidents, who need to use them to order and launch a nuclear strike. Axios reported that at no point the Chinese got possession of the codes and even apologized for the scuffle. But even if what has been reported is true, it is alarming and sensational, considering how important to global security the codes are, and how the US and China have squared off recently especially in the East China Sea.
What is the nuclear football?
The US officials follow a stringent and secret protocol when it comes to launching a nuclear strike. The codes are carried by the security officials in black briefcases on a rotation basis and the official carrying this briefcase must be close to the president at all times.
In case the president needs to order a strike, he has to identify himself to the officials at the Pentagon using some unique codes, fed on a card called the "biscuit." This card is carried by the president wherever he goes.
Trump has often boasted about the US' nuclear powers and how he has a nuclear button, which is not just "big" and "powerful," but also, very effective.
China and its equation with aides of visiting US leaders
Chinese officials have become increasingly assertive about their authority with the aides of visiting US dignitaries. The last time Trump's predecessor Barack Obama visited Beijing, the White House press aide had a verbal confrontation with a Chinese security official on the tarmac of the airport.
Obama's China visit in September 2016 started on a rocky note when he wasn't provided with stairs to get off the Air Force One. Obama's staffers had to wait for quite some time to get the lower-level stairs in place for him, which shocked the world. Several White House press photographers also took their regular positions but were asked to leave by a member of the Chinese welcoming delegation.
A White House official tried to intervene saying that Obama was the president and it was their plane and photographers. However, the members refused to budge and yelled back: "This is our country!"