The good news about the testy televised U.S.-China talks in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18 is that both sides felt free to exercise freedom of speech. And it’s not entirely bad news that both sides used that freedom to bash one other. Several times during the televised portion of the heated exchanges, one could only feel pity for the interpreters who had to wing it when diplomats on both sides went over the time limit and deviated from script.

Chinese official Yang Jiechi brought a moment of drama to the otherwise dull meeting of masked men facing off across the cheap carpet of a second rate conference hall when he departed from prepared comments to say a few saucy things about the United States. He was visibly agitated at what he saw as a rude welcome full of snubs, slights and ritual humiliations.

“Strong smell of gunpowder and drama,” was the way Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described the meeting, adding that China’s response came in reaction to “groundless attacks” by the United States.