Tales from the Trail

The Gate of Continuing Harmony – if only it were that easy

OBAMA-CHINA/President Barack Obama took a break from business during his four-countries-in-eight-days Asian trip on Tuesday to turn tourist with a quick visit to Beijing’s Forbidden City. He seemed to relish the sightseeing trip, which took about 45 minutes, squeezed in after negotiating sessions with Chinese President Hu Jintao and before a meeting with U.S. embassy staff and a state dinner.

The sprawling Forbidden City, in the heart of Beijing, was built in the 15th century and home to China’s emperors for 500 years. The 980-building complex was called “Forbidden” because no one could enter without the emperor’s permission. Now a museum and a UNESCO world heritage site, it is normally thronged with visitors, but it lived up to its name when Obama visited, as no one was allowed in except his party, journalists and lots of security.

Guided by the Forbidden City museum director, Zheng Xinmiao, Obama walked through doorways and courtyards with names like “The Gate of Continuing Harmony,” a soothing thought after talks on trade policy, global warming and denuclearization. However, he ended the visit in a spot with a name perhaps less benign, given that China is the largest holder of U.S. debt: “The Courtyard of Loyal Obedience.”

Obama changed from a business suit into a brown leather bomber jacket for the outing on the sunny, but chilly, November afternoon. OBAMA-CHINA/

“What a magnificent place to visit,” he said. “It’s a testament to the greatness of Chinese history.”

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.
OBAMA-ASIA/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)

from Summit Notebook:

U.S. Commerce Secretary doesn’t like ring of Shanghai Silicon Valley

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says one thing he doesn't want to see is a Shanghai Silicon Valley develop from China's investment in clean energy.

He warned that if the United States doesn't move forward on clean energy, it risks falling behind China where the government is spending almost $100 billion a year to support renewable energy and clean energy efficiency.

And China is not doing it just to address climate change issues, but because it sees an economic opportunity. "They're really focusing investing in the clean energy field to serve the needs of the world," Locke said at the Reuters Washington Summit.

Uighurs held at Guantanamo plead to Obama for release

A group of the 13 Chinese detainees held at the controversial U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba appealed directly to President Barack Obama for their immediate release, arguing that they have been cleared by the United States of any wrongdoing and they questioned why it was taking so long to go free.

Cuba Guantanamo

The members of the Uighur ethnic group originally sent the appeal to Obama on March 8 but it was not cleared by the U.S. government for release until July 14, according to their attorneys. Two of the signatories have since been released to Bermuda, the lawyers said.

“After 6 years of investigations, the US military confirmed that we are innocent,” the Uighurs said in their letter. “We are innocent civilians, however, we are currently still being held in jail.”

Obama handles China delicately

It’s too early to tell whether President Barack Obama’s new approach to China will be more successful than his predecessor’s. But this week’s high-level dialogue in Washington underlined how the balance of power is shifting. CHINA-USA/OBAMA

The U.S. side, determined to be more respectful and less confrontational, tiptoed around the sensitive issue of China’s currency, avoiding any public appeal for an upwards revaluation in the yuan.

There was a passing reference to the rights of China’s ethnic and religious minorities, but no sign the other side would take any more notice of foreign interference in its internal affairs than it has in the past.

The First Draft: Deja vu – it’s China and healthcare again

Presidents are never afraid of beating the same drum twice.

Today, President Barack Obama continues his quest to boost support for healthcare reform with a “tele-town hall” at AARP. Then he talks about relations with China, just like on Monday.

With Obama’s drive for healthcare reform stalled in the Senate and the House — even though both chambers are controlled by his fellow Democrats — the president is looking to ordinary Americans to push harder for an overhaul of the system.

Democrats have backed away from a vow to take a vote on the legislation before the month-long August recess but lawmakers in both chambers are still working on the bill. This afternoon, Obama heads to AARP headquarters to take questions from senior citizens about health insurance and his proposed reforms.

Confucius? No, Yao Ming

Instead of a cultural icon, well-known author or scholar, President Barack Obama sought the advice of … a basketball player as he talked of the importance of strong U.S.-Chinese economic ties.

In a speech opening the Strategic Economic Dialogue between the United States and China, Obama — an avid basketball fan and player — quoted China’s most popular sports star and Houston Rockets center, Yao Ming.

Obama said he and Chinese President Hu Jintao both agreed the two nations needed to hold “sustained dialogue to enhance our shared interests.”

The First Draft: China and healthcare

Topics of the day today: more healthcare and U.S.-Chinese relations

President Barack Obama speaks at the beginning of a two-day U.S.-Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, then top Chinese and U.S. officials will work on developing a new framework for U.S.-Chinese relations.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner are among the high-level officials taking part in the meeting. The duo wrote an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal talking about the need for working with China.

HEALTHCARE/GRASSROOTSCongress is still working on healthcare reform, although Obama has eased up on his August deadline for working out a deal. Democratic lawmakers will be working on ironing out differences within their own party. Obama has learned that although both the House and the Senate have big Democratic majorities, that’s not always enough to get legislation passed.

Do looks matter in China?

BEIJING – Does having “a Chinese face” help two top U.S. officials in hard bargaining on energy and trade issues with the Chinese?

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whose grandfather came to the United States from China, told reporters in Beijing not necessarily so.

But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed pride in Locke and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s ancestory when he met with them on Thursday.

The First Draft: Down to business

The White House puts its focus back on the economy today, with a day-long conference to talk about how the money from the economic stimulus package is being spent.

President Barack Obama is due to speak at the “Recovery Act Implementation Conference” at 11:00 EDT (1500 GMT). He is expected to talk about the need to make sure all the money spent as part of the stimulus is transparent and used efficiently. Later in the day he will speak and take questios at a business roundtable.

The timing is perfect: a Reuters survey showed U.S. unemployment will approach 10 percent as the country endures its worst recession since World War Two.