Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama set for Shanghai town hall meeting

President Barack Obama has arrived in China in his continuing Asia tour. But while the media has covered his wide ranging comments, it his statements on China that have come under particular scrutiny [BBC / CNN]

His trip started in Japan where he spoke of the importance of the ongoing ties between Japan and the US. During the first press conference of his Asian tour, both Obama and Japan's Prime Minister Hatoyama covered a number of issues. As regards Japan, Obama said, "The goal remains the same...the defence of Japan with minimal intrusion." The two leaders discussed many security issues ranging from the situation in Afghanistan to the issue of nuclear weapons development in Iran. In respect to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the Japanese PM said he wanted to help not only financially but also in terms of logistical support such as developing the country's educational system and police force.

Both Obama and Hatoyama stressed the importance of developing the 6-Party talks in respect to North Korea. Iran too was discussed and "further pressure" was needed, Hatoyama said. Obama echoed this and set out his hopes for the future. "With respect to nuclear weapons and non proliferation, we share a vision of a world without nuclear weapons," Obama said, "It will take time, it may not ocurr in our own life times." But he insisted it was a worthwhile pursuit.

Both leaders said they had talked about climate change at length. Japan's Hatoyama said he had set a goal into reducing CO2 emissions by some 20 percent by 2015. He also said he was seeking to involve China in moving this forward. President Obama on the subject of climate change said both countries had a "shared commitment of developing clean energy of the future" and said he hoped the discussions would "pave the way for a successful agreement in Copenhagen next month." [Speech in full]

On Saturday, Obama made an address at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo where he spoke at length about the US relationship with China. It was these comments that were of particular focus for western broadcasters. "We look to rising powers with the view that in the 21st century, the national security and economic growth of one country need not come at the expense of another.  I know there are many who question how the United States perceives China's emergence," Obama said. "But as I have said, in an interconnected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another."

"Now, as with any nation, America will approach China with a focus on our interests.  And it's precisely for this reason that it is important to pursue pragmatic cooperation with China on issues of mutual concern, because no one nation can meet the challenges of the 21st century alone, and the United States and China will both be better off when we are able to meet them together," Obama told the audience, "That's why we welcome China's effort to play a greater role on the world stage -- a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility.  China's partnership has proved critical in our effort to jumpstart economic recovery.  China has promoted security and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And it is now committed to the global nonproliferation regime, and supporting the pursuit of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

The US president said that China's strength will benefit other nations including the United States. "The United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances.  On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations," Obama declared. [Speech in full]
He set out his course of action with China saying he will work to deepen "strategic and economic dialogue, and improve communication between our militaries." However, Barack Obama said there were issues of conflict. "Of course, we will not agree on every issue, and the United States will never waver in speaking up for the fundamental values that we hold dear -- and that includes respect for the religion and cultures of all people -- because support for human rights and human dignity is ingrained in America.  But we can move these discussions forward in a spirit of partnership rather than rancor," he said.

Following his departure from Japan, Obama attended the APEC summit in Singapore. During his visit he spoke less about China and more about issues of climate change and of nuclear non-proliferation. He said he had discussed the "importance of meeting common challenges like climate change, nuclear proliferation, and working together in support of G20 efforts to promote a sustained and balanced global economic recovery."

With his arrival in Shanghai late Sunday there was once again increased interest in Obama's Asian tour. Obama stepped off Air Force One holding an umbrella, briefly waving to the assembled media before descending the steps and stepping for the first time on Chinese soil. He is expected to take part in a town hall meeting with hundreds of Chinese students taking part. Details of the event had not been finalised even by early Monday though it was believed the event would be televised locally. The US administration had hoped it would have been broadcast live across China and also streamed on the Internet. However, it is unlikely this may happen. The White House says the debate will be shown via their website.

As for the questions, thousands have been submitted, at least 3,300 on the Xinhuanet site alone. Issues covered include Tibet, the Dalai Lama and Obama's relationship with his wife. According to Xinhua one person is even set to ask if the president has a Facebook account and if he might be added as a friend. The question appears to have been planted. The supposed Facebook user evidently does not realise the social networking site is blocked in China. They would only be able to connect if the Chinese 'netizen' made use of a proxy server in order to circumvent the so-called Great Firewall of China. It is the Internet blocks that many Internet users are focused on and whether the US president makes any comment. One Twitter user who goes by the name Reter said "If Mr. President doesn't mention the Great Firewall during tomorrow's speech, his visit to China is not worth my concern". Another asks, "Has facebook been removed from #gfw to allow Obama to use it during his stay?".Indeed, some Internet users in Shanghai have indicated that there appears to be some relaxation of the blocks. However Facebook, Twitter, blogger and dozens of other sites blocked since at least June this year remain inaccessible.

If the town hall meeting goes ahead it will strean on the White House website at 12:45 in China [04:45 GMT].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

No comments: