In China, Obama Backs Open Internet

President Obama told Chinese students Monday that open Internet access strengthens a society. Qian Jin, a former news assistant at NPR's Shanghai Bureau who was in the audience, says Internet access in China is improving, and broader now than it was a few years ago.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The students at the Shanghai town hall were carefully screened by Chinese authorities, and some said they had been given training before they could take part. One of those who was chosen to attend the session was NPRs former news assistant in Shanghai, Qian Jin. He is now studying for his PhD in global communications at Fudan University. And he says, he was pleased to hear these first words out of President Obamas mouth.

President BARACK OBAMA: (Foreign Language Speaking)

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: Good afternoon.

QIAN JIN: (Foreign Language Speaking) and this is in (unintelligible), means (foreign language spoken) you know, hello. He learned the kind of local Shanghai dialect.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm, well, how did that sound to you?

JIN: Quite impressive. I mean, quite accurate. You know, the Shanghai dialect is very hard, even for ordinary Chinese. And I think he master it very well, quite impressive.

BLOCK: That one phrase. Two syllables.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JIN: Yeah, but still you can you can tell. I mean, he still put some effort to practice. I think hes quite perfect.

BLOCK: How did you get chosen to be at this event today?

JIN: Im just surprised because - I dont know how - the choosing process. I just get a call a couple of days ago and saying, are you interested in going to the, you know, town hall meeting with Barack Obama. I say its fine, its cool and just go there and thats it, quite simple.

BLOCK: Now I gather you had a question that you wanted to ask President Obama and you didnt get a chance to. What did you want to ask him?

JIN: I want to ask about the climate change. My question is, is this time for American people to finally check the way of living, check their lifestyle in order to do their part to fight the global warming.

BLOCK: And you didnt get a chance to ask that.

JIN: Yeah, because so many people raised hands, so I didnt get a chance to ask the question.

BLOCK: You know, there was a question at the end that came not from the audience. It was read by the U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, a question that had come in over the Internet to the embassy. And it had to do with opening up the Internet and whats call the Great Firewall of China Web sites that are censored and things like that. Lets take a listen.

Pres. OBAMA: I am a big believer in technology and Im a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information. I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes.

BLOCK: And the president went on from there. Qian Jin, its interesting because apparently, the irony here is that a lot of what came out of this meeting today, including this question about the Internet, may have been posted briefly on the Internet in China, but then was taken down. What do you think about that? Does that surprise you?

JIN: I mean, based on my own experience of (unintelligible) Internet things, I mean, I can get all the option that I want to have right now. And then I think everybody is happy.

BLOCK: What did you think about President Obamas message about openness and transparency, things like that?

JIN: I think if hes just looking about Chinese Internet right now and comparing to five or three years ago without Internet or something like that, you definitely see the kind of openness in Chinese Internet. I think its improving, and people seem to get more and more understanding about Internet, what Internet can do. And I think they are getting more and more through the Internet.

BLOCK: Tell me about what happened after the presidents speech. I guess he worked the room a bit.

JIN: Yeah, he walked around the room and shook hands with the first row and then he decided to - left the hall. But, you know, we sort of get chance to get his attention. And he just, you know, returned and shook hands with us and we are all very excited.

BLOCK: Did you get a chance to talk to him?

JIN: I didnt get a chance to talk to him because so many hands waving in front of my eyes and I just get a chance to shake his hand. Its fantastic.

BLOCK: Qian Jin, thanks for talking with us.

JIN: No, no, no problem.

BLOCK: Qian Jin is studying for his PhD in global communications at Fudan University in Shanghai.

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Obama Pushes China To Stop Censoring Internet

Pres. Obama is greeted  by Chinese President Hu Jintao i i

President Obama is greeted by Chinese President Hu Jintao after his arrival at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Monday. Elizabeth Dalziel/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Elizabeth Dalziel/AFP/Getty Images
Pres. Obama is greeted  by Chinese President Hu Jintao

President Obama is greeted by Chinese President Hu Jintao after his arrival at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Monday.

Elizabeth Dalziel/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama sat down with Chinese leader Hu Jintao in Beijing on Monday to talk trade, climate change and economics hours before addressing university students on the delicate subjects of censorship and Internet access in the nation of 1.3 billion.

The White House delegation met with Hu at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where Obama hoped to impart his belief that few global challenges can be solved unless the world's only superpower and its rising competitor work together. He and his advisers have insisted in virtually all public utterances since he arrived in Japan on Friday: "We do not seek to contain China's rise."

Obama echoed that message in a town hall-style meeting with university students in Shanghai, where he assured his young audience that the United States has more to gain from working with a rising China than standing against it.

One Student's Reaction

Qian Jin is a former news assistant at NPR's Shanghai Bureau. He is now a Ph.D. candidate in communication at Fudan University in Shanghai. He was selected to attend the town hall-style meeting.

"I believe cooperation must go beyond our government. It must be rooted in our people — in the studies we share, in the business that we do, the knowledge that we gain, and even in the sports that we play," the U.S. president said.

Obama said the United States is not seeking to impose any system of government on any other nation, "but we also don't believe that the principles 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," he said. "They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities, whether they are in the United States, China or any other nation."

Censorship and Beijing's record on human rights — especially its treatment of ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and the Uighur people concentrated in China's southwest Xinjiang province — are especially sensitive issues between the two nations.

In his opening statement to the students in Shanghai, Obama spoke bluntly about the benefits of individual freedoms in a country known for limiting them. Social networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter are among those blocked to China's estimated 250 million Internet users by the government's so-called Great Firewall.

"I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable," Obama told students during his first-ever trip to China. "They can begin to think for themselves."

President Obama answers questions at the Museum of Science and Technology in Shanghai. i i

President Obama answers questions during a town hall-style meeting Monday at the Museum of Science and Technology in Shanghai. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama answers questions at the Museum of Science and Technology in Shanghai.

President Obama answers questions during a town hall-style meeting Monday at the Museum of Science and Technology in Shanghai.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

He credited the Internet with helping him win the presidency because it allowed for the mobilization of young Americans not unlike those in the audience at Shanghai's Museum of Science and Technology.

"I'm a big supporter of non-censorship," Obama said. "I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access — is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged."

In the U.S., he noted, the free flow of information extended to a healthy debate about government. He acknowledged that he has "a lot of critics" that can say "all kinds of things" about him.

"I actually think that makes our democracy stronger, and it makes me a better leader," he told the gathered students.

The town hall was not broadcast live across China on television, but was shown on local Shanghai TV and streamed online on two big national Internet portals.

He also told students that China and the United States needed to demonstrate that they could work together to solve big problems, such as climate change. The two nations are cooperating more than ever on battling global warming, but they still differ deeply over hard targets for reductions in the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause it.

"I can tell you other countries around the world will be waiting for us," Obama said. "They will watch to see what we do. And if they say, 'Ah, the United States and China aren't serious about this,' then they won't be serious either. That is the burden of leadership that both of our countries carry."

On Monday night, Hu played host to Obama at an informal dinner. The most substantive talks were set for Tuesday, when the two leaders were to meet in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. After that, Obama will do some sightseeing, visiting the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

Obama is in the midst of a weeklong Asia trip. He came with a vast agenda of security, economic and environmental concerns.

He is expected to raise the issue of the yuan's exchange rate. China maintains a de facto peg to the U.S. dollar through its "managed float" regime, which has been criticized for keeping the yuan's value artificially low. That is a boon to the country's huge export economy because it keeps the price of "Made in China" products low.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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