Obama Tests The Air In China
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.
President Barack Obama is in Shanghai today, making his first official visit to China. The formal agenda includes trade relations, security issues, human rights and climate change. On the issue of global warming, while meeting with leaders of Asia Pacific countries today, the president acknowledged that next month's climate change conference in Copenhagen is not likely to produce a binding accord.
For more, NPR's Louisa Lim joins us from Shanghai. Hi, Louisa.
LOUISA LIM: Good morning, Liane.
HANSEN: What are some of China's reservations about agreeing to a deal on climate change?
LIM: Well, China's the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. But under the Kyoto Accord, China as a developing country, it didnt have to cap its emissions. And its argument is that it is still a developing country. It says it will be unfair to make it cap its emissions because the historical responsibility doesnt belong to China. It argues that its cumulative emissions were just a quarter of the U.S.'s cumulative emissions. And it says that any attempt to force it to cap its emissions would hinder its development.
So what China wants is more financial support from the developed world and more technology transfer to help it tackle climate change.
HANSEN: One of President Obama's first engagements on Chinese soil is a town hall meeting with young people. But I understand there's been some back and forth about the terms of the event?
LIM: That's right. And it appears that horse trading may still be going on even though this event is due to happen on Monday morning. The White House had originally wanted a town hall-style meeting. Apparently about 1,000 people there had been hoping would attend and have this unscripted exchange with the president. The Chinese wanted a much smaller meeting.
Now it appears that there'll be meeting of about 500 to 700 people in the Museum of Science and Technology. They will probably mostly be students from Chinese elite institutions. And we have been seeing these tweets online, Twitterers saying that these students have actually been sequestered to get ready for the event. Thats obviously unconfirmed. But it has been the case in past when leaders have come, that students are sometimes coached in these events.
China has pledged not to censor Obama, but it's still unclear how much of the speech will be shown; whether it will be shown on live TV or whether perhaps it will be shown online or on local TV stations, so that people who dont have access to the Internet or to satellite TV might not be able to see it.
HANSEN: Talk a little bit about the agenda. How much of a role will human rights play?
LIM: Well, human rights is going to be one of the big tests for Obama. Back in February, Hillary Clinton said the U.S. wouldnt let human rights get in the way of bilateral cooperation with China, and this was something which really disheartened human rights activists in China.
And we are already hearing reports of dissidents being rounded up and put under house arrest, ahead of Mr. Obama's visit. And we're also hearing that authorities have, just in the last few days, moved against two of the largest underground churches in China - one in Beijing, one in Shanghai.
So some believe that this is the tip of the iceberg: That if Obama doesnt speak out forcefully on human rights, then that could embolden the Chinese to move more forcefully against religious groups.
HANSEN: Briefly, is President Obama popular in China?
LIM: Well, interestingly, we are seeing some indications of dropping popularity. U.S. embassy survey last year showed that he had a 75 percent approval rating. And now, newspapers are printing survey saying 46 percent of respondents say they dont like Obama. These surveys aren't very reliable, but it's certainly the case that many ordinary Chinese have been angered by recent trade disputes.
Theyve been particularly worried about the decision to put duties on Chinese tires and steel pipes. And they see that as protectionism. So this is obviously going to be an important part of Obama's trip here. And these rising trade disputes are going to be one of the tensest issues on whats already a difficult agenda.
HANSEN: Louisa Lim is NPR's Shanghai correspondent. Louisa, thank you.
LIM: Thank you.
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