Chinese quiz Obama on trade, Tibet and Yao Ming

BEIJING Fri Nov 13, 2009 2:04am EST

U.S. President Barack Obama greets U.S. military service personnel and their family members at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska November 12, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama greets U.S. military service personnel and their family members at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska November 12, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Internet users want to quiz U.S. President Barack Obama about trade feuds, basketball, Tibet and whether he will cede California to China, according to websites seeking questions for a "town hall" meeting.

Obama arrives on Sunday for a four-day visit to shore up ties between the world's biggest and third-biggest economies, and a public high point will be a planned question-and-answer meeting with young Chinese in Shanghai on Monday.

The White House hopes the quiz session will have a "web component," although details are still being negotiated, said Richard Buangan, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

"We're still in discussions with the Chinese government over whether the event will be broadcast live nationally and how it will be carried over the Internet," Buangan told Reuters from Shanghai, where he was helping to organize Obama's itinerary.

But state-run websites have already begun to solicit possible questions for Obama from the country's estimated 300 million Internet users, including via a Chinese-language website of the official Xinhua news agency (ask.home.news.cn/).

The questions collected reflect the mix of anxiety and expectation the U.S. president is likely to encounter when he meets President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Obama's possible meeting with the Dalai Lama -- the exiled Tibetan leader scorned by Beijing as a "splittist" for demanding self-rule for his homeland -- ranks high among the worries of both China's Communist Party leaders and many citizens.

"Are you planning to meet the Dalai Lama after visiting China?," asks one Internet user. "We hope you'll respect the feelings of the Chinese people and not send the wrong signal to this character threatening Chinese sovereignty."

China is also riled by U.S. backing for Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing calls an illegitimate break away. "Just what is the United States? China's friend or enemy?" asks one.

TRADE, SPORTS

Others wanted to press Obama on trade, accusing Washington of hypocritical protectionism by mounting anti-dumping cases against Chinese goods.

Chinese worries about the U.S. are diluted by a passion for American sports and culture, especially with China's Yao Ming among the stars of the U.S. National Basketball Association.

"Can you have word with the NBA to let Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets win one championship?," pleads one Internet user.

Others raised bigger hopes.

"Russian media reported that in 2010 the United States will cede California to China," asked one. "How do you view this?"

The website of the official People's Daily newspaper was also seeking questions for Obama (bbs1.people.com.cn/).

Chinese authorities often scour websites for any views that offend policy -- a point one Internet user managed to make.

"How do you view freedom of speech Chinese-style, with the Chinese propaganda authorities filtering Web comments and taking down messages?," one Internet user on the People's Daily site suggested asking Obama.

(Additional reporting by Liu Zhen; Editing by Ken Wills and Sanjeev Miglani)

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