Obama Pushes China Not To Censor Information

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President Obama is in Beijing, where he meets his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao. Earlier Monday, Obama met with what the White House calls "future" Chinese leaders. He held a town hall-style meeting with college students in China's biggest city of Shanghai. Obama said he's a big believer in uncensored information, even if it is sometimes politically inconvenient.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama is in Beijing today, where he's meeting with China's top leaders. Mr. Obama has already met with what the White House calls China's future leaders. Earlier today, he held a town hall-style meeting with college students in Shanghai, China's largest city.

NPR's Scott Horsley was there.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Shanghai is where U.S.-China relations began to thaw from the Cold War more than 30 years ago, and the city's skyscrapers are a symbol of China's remarkable economic growth since then. President Obama declared the U.S. has no interest in containing China's rise. He said there's more to gain when great powers cooperate than when they collide.

President BARACK OBAMA: And I believe strongly that cooperation must go beyond our government. It must be rooted in our people in the studies we share, the business that we do, the knowledge that we gain and even in the sports that we play.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama recalled the ping-pong diplomacy of the 1970s. He promised to dramatically increase the number of American college students studying in China, and he eagerly fielded questions from Chinese college students, including this one, who spoke through an interpreter.

Unidentified Woman #1: China advocates a harmonious world. We know that the United States develops a culture that features diversity. What will your government do to build a diversified world with different cultures?

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama acknowledged that each country has its own traditions and said the U.S. would act modestly when applying its model overseas. At the same time, he subtly challenged China on its human rights record, saying America's commitment to freedom and representative government knows no borders.

Pres. OBAMA: We do not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation, but we also don't believe that the principles that we stand for are unique to our nation. These freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation, we believe, are universal rights. They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities, whether they are in the United States, China or any nation.

HORSLEY: Access to information is particularly sensitive in China, where some news websites and social networking services - such as Twitter and Facebook -are now off-limits, behind what's known as the government's great firewall. The White House took pains to post a video of today's town hall on its own website, and the event was broadcast on local television. Mr. Obama says he's a big believer in uncensored information, even if it is sometimes politically inconvenient.

Pres. OBAMA: Because, in the United States, information is free and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things abut me, I actually think that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama was asked about winning the Nobel Peace Prize and whether that would add to the burdens of his presidency. He said once again, he was surprised and honored by the award, saying it was largely a recognition of America's changing approach to the world. As for the burdens of his presidency...

Pres. OBAMA: I don't know if there's a similar saying in China. We have a saying: You made your bed, now you have to sleep in it. And it basically means you have to be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama suggested China, as an emerging world power, is now in a similar position. From economic revival to global warming, few big challenges can be solved without China playing a leading role.

Pres. OBAMA: Because I will tell you, other countries around the world will be waiting for us. They will watch to see what we do. And if they say, ah, you know, the United States and China, they're not serious about this, then they won't be serious, either. That's - that is the burden of leadership that both of our countries now carry.

HORSLEY: With that in mind, Mr. Obama said goodbye to China's future leaders and headed to Beijing for talks with the country's current president, Hu Jintao.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Shanghai.

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