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

BEIJING Sat Mar 22, 2014 6:43am EDT

1 of 5. Paramilitary policemen (front) stand guard as visitors take pictures of U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (not seen) who is visiting 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 criticizes 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 criticized 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 (13)
Bakhtin wrote:
Looking at the accompanying photos, I have to say the the Obama’s are dressed very poorly. They look as though they are going to the mall, not representing their country on an official visit.

Maybe they should take some advice from Peng Liyuan.

Mar 22, 2014 5:35am EDT  --  Report as abuse
John30303 wrote:
She (he, they) should work on securing privacy on the internet from corporate and governmental snoops and spies.
God Bless (and protect) Mr. Snowden!

Mar 22, 2014 9:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Trichiurus wrote:
“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.” :
This is an absolute lie. Both she and her husband get very defensive and angry when questioned about their actions/decisions. Queen Michelle is as two-faced as they come with all the depth of personality of a kiddie-wadding pool. In this country, Michelle’s and Obama’s idea of “freedom” is the same as Putin’s: “We’ll define it for you and we have the means to enforce it.”

Mar 22, 2014 10:43am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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