Obama hits out at China's censorship

Chinese students draw President into subtle attack on internet restrictions and the 'Great Firewall of China'

Barack Obama used his first day in China to offer a carefully worded critique of Beijing's record on freedom of speech, telling an audience of students that it was good for leaders to be forced "to hear opinions that [they] don't want to hear".

But by the end of the day that pointed message had been wrapped in a deferential approach apparently designed to avoid any serious clash with America's largest foreign creditor.

Mr Obama, on his first trip to Asia as US President, spent the evening in one of the great bastions of contemporary Chinese power, eating dinner with Hu Jintao – who had described the student meeting as "lively" – at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. Earlier, he had been welcomed at Beijing's international airport for the second leg of his maiden China voyage by Vice President Xi Jinping, the man tipped as most likely to succeed Mr Hu in a leadership transition expected in 2012.

On a trip that has a knotty agenda, with tough talking ahead on subjects from China's undervalued yuan currency to climate change, he struck a cordial tone even in his criticism.

"We do not seek to contain China's rise. On the contrary, we welcome China as a strong and prosperous and successful member of the community of nations," said Mr Obama. The US leader is likely to continue to take pains to foster good relations on a trip to the ancient Forbidden City in Beijing today.

Still, his words at the "town hall" style question and answer session with students in Shanghai included comments that were unmistakably critical of the Chinese government: politely, but firmly, defending calls for greater freedoms, and in particular with regard to the internet. China employs some of the world's tightest controls over the 250 million of its citizens who are internet users. Indeed, online news stories about Mr Obama's comments were quickly deleted.

In answer to a controversial question about the so-called "Great firewall of China", Mr Obama said: "I'm a big supporter of not restricting internet use. The more open we are, the more we can communicate." And he added: "I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, [and] I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader."

The reaction among ordinary Chinese to Mr Obama's visit has been mixed. "I think the more freedom the information enjoys, the stronger society will be. I strongly oppose censorship. But Obama is not our general secretary. His words are ineffective in China," wrote Lin Shixue on Sohu.com.

But Wu Jiangqi, 25, a graduate student in Beijing, said: "Obama is a special US President not only to American but also to Chinese. I still have big expectations for him. I hope he can maintain a good Sino-US relationship."

So far, Mr Obama has not mentioned Tibet or other issues that could have drawn ire ahead of formal talks today. He will sit down with Mr Hu in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.

Mr Obama has said he will bring up human rights, which is likely to irritate his hosts, although not forcefully. This has long become routine in Sino-US dialogue, and rarely raises expectations on the US side nor hackles on the Beijing side. Nor does it appear to deliver much progress, although individual cases may be discussed in private.

On economic matters, China has bluntly rejected calls to raise the value of the yuan, which would make the country's exports more expensive.

Politically, it will be important to see how the leaders compare on strategic issues in the region, specifically the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

Climate change will also feature on the agenda. Both countries have agreed on the need to reduce emissions ahead of the Copenhagen summit.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?