Michelle Obama tells Chinese students internet freedom's a universal right

BEIJING Sat Mar 22, 2014 2:20pm IST

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) claps as she watches a performance at the Summer Palace in Beijing, March 22, 2014. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) claps as she watches a performance at the Summer Palace in Beijing, March 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic

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BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. first lady Michelle Obama told an audience of college students in the Chinese capital on Saturday that open access to information - especially online - is a universal right.

But Obama stopped short of calling on China to offer its citizens greater freedoms on a visit in which she is expected to steer clear of more complicated political issues, but rather try to build goodwill through soft diplomacy.

"It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the internet and through the media," Obama said told an audience of about 200 U.S. and Chinese students at Beijing's prestigious Peking University.

"My husband and I are on the receiving end of plenty of questioning and criticism from our media and our fellow citizens, and it's not always easy," she added. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."

Censorship in Chinese news media and online is widespread, and internet users in the country cannot access information about many controversial topics without special software to circumvent restrictions.

The United States frequently criticises China's human rights record, including its lack of protection of freedom of speech.

Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is focusing on promoting education and cultural ties during the week-long trip, and will also visit the Great Wall, the historic city of Xi'an, and the southern city of Chengdu along with her mother and two daughters.

Former U.S. first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton both criticised other countries' human rights records on trips abroad while their husbands were in office.

U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus also touched on internet freedom on Saturday in remarks to the students before Obama's speech.

"Between texting, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat we're all interconnected," he said, describing how technology enables better communication between cultures.

Twitter and Facebook are both blocked in China.

(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Comments (1)
Regula wrote:
Soft power? And then she does nothing but rewarm the same old records – human rights, free speech and now, after the NSA essentially wrecked any freedom of speech on the internet: freedom of the internet. She must be a bit crazy. Surely, the world has long understood that the US uses the term “human rights” to mean US dictat. The US has one of the worst human rights records: discrimination against blacks, hispanics, the poor of all colors; false incarcerations of blacks and hispanics in large numbers; torture in US prisons with solitary confinement, deprivation of the senses. When it comes to the treatment of people in other countries, the US is closer to Hitler than human rights. And Michelle wants to go lecture China on human rights! Hasn’t she understood that every nation has to learn democracy, step by step, so it doesn’t cause havoc – in a country with 1.3b people, that is a genuine issue. In addition, China is actively eliminating the last 100’000 extremely poor people, eliminating slums. It increased wages, brought development to outlying provinces so the people there also profit from the new wealth; is subsidizing farmers now and introduced private property of farmland so farmers won’t get displaced anymore; will introduce elected provincial governors in the near future. Why can’t this woman comment on the immensely positive steps China makes in a planned and consistent way to prepare its population to democracy? Could the US just for once comment of the positive efforts of China than the endless saw of the same old and meaningless because hollow criticism? How much more power would there have been in a real understanding of the policy of the Chinese government instead of talking of religious freedom when the only purpose of that is that the US is muff because China outlawed the Falung Gong, whom it used to sow discord and unrest in China. As a religion, Falung Gong is completely fake and destructive.

Mar 23, 2014 10:57am IST  --  Report as abuse
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