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Obama criticises internet censorship China meeting

Barack ObamaBarack Obama praised freedom of expression and political participation and criticised internet censorship as he spoke to students in Shanghai today, in the only public meeting scheduled for his three-day visit to China.

The US president told the gathering of around 300 young people that his country saw such liberties as universal rights. But he stopped short of direct reference to human rights abuses in China, as some activists had urged. Other issues raised in the question-and-answer session ranged from arms sales to Taiwan to his Nobel Peace Prize.

China-watchers in the US have long encouraged their government to reach out to the country’s public, as well as its leaders. But today’s meeting underlined the difficulties of doing so.

The event had been billed as a town hall style meeting, but Chinese officials rejected US proposals that 1,000 people should attend and that it should be broadcast live nationwide.

It was streamed on the White House site, broadcast live on a local Shanghai television channel and transmitted in text form on state news agency Xinhua’s website.

Although Obama selected questioners from the audience himself, and answered inquiries from internet users, the students present were handpicked by officials at Shanghai institutions. The names of at least two questioners matched those of Communist Youth League officers at Fudan University.


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