In China Obama Touts Freedom Through Twitter, Basketball’s Yao Ming And Being The First Black President

FEATURECHINA/Newscom

President Obama held up Twitter and non-censored technology as a key foundation for a free society while addressing students in China.

Speaking in Shanghai during his 8-day trip through Asia, Obama operated much like he does at his typical U.S. town hall, even going boy-girl, boy-girl as he took questions.

He opened up on winning the Nobel Prize, how he views the conflict in Afghanistan and complimented the students on their English skills.

During the town hall Ambassador Jon Huntsman read the question, submitted through the embassy: “In a country with 350 million Internet users and 60 million bloggers, do you know of the firewall? … Should we be able to use Twitter freely?”

Obama admitted he had never actually tweeted – despite his campaign and the White House’s large presence on Twitter – but said technology helps unite the world.Obama said he is “a big believer in technology and I’m a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information.”

I’ve posted most of his answer here. You can also watch the remarks.

“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. They can begin to think for themselves. That generates new ideas. It encourages creativity.

And so I’ve always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I’m a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States that I discussed before, and 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.

Now, I should tell you, I should be honest, as President of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time. I think people naturally are — when they’re in positions of power sometimes thinks, oh, how could that person say that about me, or that’s irresponsible, or — but the truth is that because in the United States information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear. It forces me to examine what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis to see, am I really doing the very best that I could be doing for the people of the United States.

And I think the Internet has become an even more powerful tool for that kind of citizen participation. In fact, one of the reasons that I won the presidency was because we were able to mobilize young people like yourself to get involved through the Internet. Initially, nobody thought we could win because we didn’t have necessarily the most wealthy supporters; we didn’t have the most powerful political brokers. But through the Internet, people became excited about our campaign and they started to organize and meet and set up campaign activities and events and rallies. And it really ended up creating the kind of bottom-up movement that allowed us to do very well.

So I’m a big supporter of not restricting Internet use, Internet access, other information technologies like Twitter. The more open we are, the more we can communicate. And it also helps to draw the world together.

Think about — when I think about my daughters, Malia and Sasha — one is 11, one is 8 — from their room, they can get on the Internet and they can travel to Shanghai. They can go anyplace in the world and they can learn about anything they want to learn about. And that’s just an enormous power that they have. And that helps, I think, promote the kind of understanding that we talked about.

Now, as I said before, there’s always a downside to technology. It also means that terrorists are able to organize on the Internet in ways that they might not have been able to do before. Extremists can mobilize. And so there’s some price that you pay for openness, there’s no denying that. But I think that the good outweighs the bad so much that it’s better to maintain that openness.”

Reporters traveling with Obama reported today that state-run television ran edited clips of the town hall. But as the administration has done with his speeches in Turkey, Egypt and Russia, they plan to extend the reach via the Internet, using social networking sites and the White House and State Department Web sites.

Obama told the 300 Chinese students at his town hall they represent China’s “future” – “young people whose talent and dedication and dreams will do so much to help shape the 21st century.”

The event was streamed online to, the White House hopes, tens or hundreds of thousands more.

Obama also talked about the “very painful civil war” and when black Americans were separate but not equal.

He said the struggle for civil rights has been long but has allowed people of all backgrounds to flourish.

“None of this was easy. But we made progress because of our belief in those core principles, which have served as our compass through the darkest of storms,” he said. “That’s why immigrants from China to Kenya could find a home on our shores; why opportunity is available to all who would work for it; and why someone like me, who less than 50 years ago would have had trouble voting in some parts of America, is now able to serve as its president.”

He added:

“America will always speak out for these core principles around the world. We do not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation, but we also don’t believe that the principles that 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. They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities — whether they are in the United States, China, or any nation. Indeed, it is that respect for universal rights that guides America’s openness to other countries; our respect for different cultures; our commitment to international law; and our faith in the future.

The president also announced the U.S. “will dramatically expand the number of our students who study in China to 100,000.”

The president, America’s No. 1 sports fan, used that universal language to loosen up the crowd in his opening with a nod to Houston Rockets player Yao Ming.

“Yao Ming is just one signal of our shared love of basketball — I’m only sorry that I won’t be able to see a Shanghai Sharks game while I’m visiting,” Obama said.

In Moscow in July, Obama offered thanks to Russia for “contributing” to D.C. with Washington Capitals left wing NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin.

We clipped the whole town hall.

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