Posted on Mon, Nov. 16, 2009
last updated: November 16, 2009 04:29:35 PM
BEIJING — President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao will meet Tuesday to talk privately about issues ranging from North Korea's nuclear threat to currency and trade disputes. U.S. policy advocates also expect the leaders to announce new joint projects on clean energy.
On the first full day of Obama's visit to the world's largest nation, the president mixed substance with fun stuff: a tour to the Forbidden City and a state dinner. He was to see the Great Wall on Wednesday and visit officials and U.S. troops in South Korea on Thursday before returning home.
On Monday Obama used his first public appearance in China — a town hall meeting in Shanghai — to court China's Internet users and intellectuals, prodding the Chinese government to end its censorship policy.
"I'm a big supporter of noncensorship," Obama said.
If Obama's remarks made Hu uneasy, they appeared to fall short of creating a diplomatic setback.
Obama and Hu hoped to be able to announce some areas of mutual advancement Tuesday, scheduling a midday joint appearance. Other topics they were expected to discuss included terrorism and militarization, the global economic crisis, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, global warming, China's control of Tibet, and human rights and democracy.
After flying from Shanghai to Beijing, Obama was greeted on the tarmac with a red carpet, a visit from China's vice president, a girl holding flowers and an honor guard.
In the evening, Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top administration officials were Hu's guests at a 90-minute dinner that included prawns, soup, lamb chops and a demonstration for the Americans on Chinese noodle-making.
The motorcade from Obama's hotel to the ornate Diaoyutai State Guesthouse took the American president along Chang An Jie, the Avenue Of Eternal Peace.
For Obama, who hadn't been to China before, this meant a first-time in-person glimpse of Tiananmen Square on his left, 20 years after the student pro-democracy protests were put down by the government with deadly force; and, on his right, the gates to the Forbidden City, the palace of China's emperors, built before Columbus discovered America.
Obama and Hu spoke informally over dinner about the histories of both countries and their evolving relationship, and touched on the economy and education, but saved the official agenda for Tuesday's meetings, National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said. Jones attended the dinner, which was closed to the news media.
At the town hall in Shanghai's Science and Technology Museum, Obama took eight questions. The most politically edgy one, submitted to the U.S. Embassy via the Internet, asked whether he was familiar with the Chinese Internet firewall and whether he thought Chinese should have the right to use Twitter freely.
"I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can then hold their own governments accountable," the president told the audience of about 400 handpicked university students.
Obama hoped to reach a much broader audience of Chinese, who have the largest Internet population and the largest number of cell phone users of any nation. It wasn't immediately clear, however, how many of China's 1.3 billion people had access to his full remarks. The Chinese government agreed to broadcast the forum on Shanghai television but not nationally. The official state news agency, Xinhua, carried the text of Obama's remarks on its Web site, including the portions related to censorship.
The Chinese government limits access to social networking sites, however, and has a history of cutting remarks it considers destabilizing from broadcasts or news accounts. A portion of Obama's inaugural address last January was blocked in China. In addition, what's known as "the great firewall of China" is a state system of tight Internet controls that block any number of sites and Web traffic.
"In the United States, the fact that we have unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged," Obama said.
He admitted to moments "where I wish information didn't flow so freely, because then I wouldn't have to listen to people criticize me all the time." However, he said, "I actually think that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader, because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear."
Obama also told the Chinese that in modern times, power "is no longer a zero-sum game" and, "We do not seek to contain China's rise."
He said that the U.S. shouldn't impose its own system of governance on other countries but that some values should be universal.
He recalled the past four decades of U.S.-Sino diplomacy: table tennis, President Nixon's historic visit, the establishment of formal relations during the Cold War 30 years ago and the evolution of the relationship in terms of trade and the economy in recent years.
Obama said that the greatest threats to national security today remained terrorist networks such as al Qaida, and that it was important to stabilize Afghanistan.
McClatchy special correspondent Athena Zhao in Beijing and Renee Schoof in Washington contributed to this report.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY