Obama encourages unbridled Internet in China
Internet-savvy President Barack Obama told Chinese students that he is a big fan of the Web, though he doesn’t Twitter.
At a town hall forum in Shanghai, a student who sent in a question by email pointed out that China has a huge online community with 350 million Internet users and 60 million bloggers.
He asked what Obama thought of the Chinese government’s “firewall” that blocks objectionable Internet sites and if he thought the Chinese should be able to “Twitter freely.”
“First of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter,” Obama replied. “I noticed that young people — they’re very busy with all these electronics. My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone.”
But he added, “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.” Obama said a free Internet allows people around the world to think freely and hold their governments accountable.
Obama’s election campaign was credited with using the Internet in innovative ways — Facebook and texting — to raise money and rally a huge network of volunteers.
Traveling in China as part of a nine-day Asia tour, Obama made a point of highlighting the Internet at the town hall. He took questions from the students in attendance at the event as well as questions submitted over the Internet.
The question about the Chinese firewall was one of more than 1,000 submitted by email through the U.S. embassy. At the request of the White House, which did not want to be in the awkward position of pre-selecting a question, Bloomberg reporter Ed Chen, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, chose the question randomly by picking a number and relaying it to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Reuters photo by Jason Reed (a student poses a question to Obama at the town hall-style meeting at Shanghai’s Museum of Science and Technology, Nov. 16, 2009)