He didn’t explicitly call on China’s leaders to lift the veil of state control that restricts Internet access and online social networking here. But President Obama did tiptoe — ever so lightly — into that controversial topic on Monday when he told students in Shanghai that a free and unfettered Internet is a source of strength, not weakness.
…… “I will no forget this morning,” one Chinese Twitterer said. “I heard, on my shaky Internet connection, a question about our own freedom which only a foreign leader can discuss.”
Asked about China’s “Great Firewall” Obama described himself as “a big supporter of non-censorship” and said criticism enabled by freedom of expression in the US made him a better president.
But Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, criticised Obama for framing liberties as a question of political culture rather than international legal norms.
He added: “What’s important is to put a degree of pressure on the Chinese government for its repressive practices.
“You cannot do that without a degree of straight talk. That’s not what happened at this meeting … What was needed was to include things relevant to what is happening in the country – as he did in Cairo, for example.”
From the Washington Post: Obama backs non-censorship; Beijing, apparently, does not.
Obama was asked what he thought about the Chinese government blocking several Internet international sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as critical news sites. “I’ve always been a strong supporter of open Internet use,” Obama said.
The question, and Obama’s answer, appeared almost immediately as a top news story on the official New China News Agency, known here as Xinhua, as well on as several popular Chinese Web sites.
But about an hour later, the stories about Obama embracing Internet freedom disappeared.
The sina.com site, for example, initially ran the story under the headline: “Obama: The Internet is a tool for becoming stronger and citizens can participate.” An hour later, anyone going to that link got the message, “Cannot find the page.”
The news was also deleted from Xinhua, which initially posted a story about Obama’s answer on Internet censorship but later carried a notice that said, “Sorry! The news you are checking has been deleted or expired.”
Even the students who posed questions to Obama were pre-selected, and most appeared to be members of the Chinese Communist Party Youth League.
And another report on the New York Times blog: Obama Walks China’s ‘Great Firewall’:
As Reuters reported, the forum “was carefully orchestrated by the local government and was not carried live by national broadcasters. It could only be viewed on some Shanghai news channels, select international media and certain Web sites.” Reuters noted that this contrasted with a question-and-answer session with Chinese students during President Bill Clinton’s visit in 1998, which was carried live by the national broadcaster CCTV.
This news on the web, via google News.
Update: See a report from CBS, “Breaking the Great Firewall”: