Chinese Media Perspectives on Obama's Visit

New America Media, News report, Vivian Po Posted: Nov 17, 2009

On November 16, President Barack Obama met with a selected group of 500 Chinese students from different colleges in Shanghai. During the one-hour event, a wide range of topics -- from unrestricted information access, carbon emission reduction to education -- was discussed.

But unlike news reports from their mainstream counterparts, Chinese ethnic media in the United States reported primarily on Obama’s views on Taiwan-China relations. While the New York Times and Wall Street Journal focused on the president’s promotion of “universal rights”-- freedom of expression, freedom of religion, no restriction to Internet and information access, political participation -- ethnic media focused on issues of national relations.

Sing Tao Daily, one of the largest Chinese newspapers in the United States, reported on the meeting with the headline “Obama Looks Forward to the Two-Side Dialogue,” followed by a second story headlined, “Dialogues with Shanghai Young People, Avoids Answering Continued Sale of Weapons to Taiwan.”

Sing Tao paid special attention to Obama’s support of the One-China policy and his expectations for reduced tensions between the United States and China through communication and economic partnerships.

But Sing Tao also pointed out that Obama avoided stating his position on U.S. sales of weapons to Taiwan by not answering the question on that very topic.

Ning Wang, editor-in-chief of Sing Tao Daily in New York, said the differences on news focus between the Chinese media and their mainstream counterparts were based on readers’ interests.

“From the perspective of Chinese-American readers, Taiwan-China relations is a more appealing topic when compared to human rights,” noted Wang.

Chinese Americans coming from China, Taiwan or Hong Kong keep close economic ties with their home countries, Wang said, and were interested in knowing the U.S. position on the Taiwan-China situation and how it would affect their business partnerships in those areas.

Even though Obama’s expressions on universal rights were not a focus of the Chinese media, his comments were not completely omitted. They were simply treated as secondary to the Taiwan-China issue.

However, the World Journal, another Chinese newspaper in the United States with strong influence in the Taiwanese American community, had the headline, “Internet Strengthens Democracy,” on the last page of its four-page coverage of Obama’s visit to China. The article explained in detail Obama’s strong support for open access to the Internet and information.

Moreover, Chinese media said it was not surprising to see Obama bringing up the issue of individual rights in the town hall meeting. His motive for greeting Chinese students, after all, was to promote American values to Chinese youth, who are more open to new perspectives on social issues.

In fact, Leung Kwokshu, a reporter with KTSF Channel 26 one of the most popular Chinese language news programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, did a news analysis on the meeting. He stated that Obama focused his efforts on young people because the “younger generation in China appears to be more nationalistic and can be often anti-American.”

But Obama has once again proven his popularity among young people, with Chinese students describing him after the meeting as “eloquent,” “close to people,” and “a gentleman.”

According to an immediate report by Yu Donghui, a reporter with China Press who traveled to Shanghai and interviewed students at the venue, Obama left a favorable and memorable impression among China’s youth.

“Obama is very nice, his approach to China is very friendly. He answers the questions very well but too bad the time was short,” said Wang Tingting, a female college student who was interviewed.

Many students were also impressed that Obama came to the audience to shake hands with them before leaving the meeting.

Live broadcasting of the meeting was shown in the United States on the White House Web site. It immediately stirred up conversations on facebook. Some users showed support for Obama’s modest and less offensive way of introducing universal rights to the Chinese audience; others believe he should have been more straightforward on human rights in China.

After the town hall meeting in Shanghai, Obama arrived in Beijing on the same evening to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Although Obama discussed individual rights with students in Shanghai, Chinese media predicted human rights would not be a major topic of discussion between Obama and Hu.

A World Journal editorial piece published on Nov. 15 stated that, “In April of 1998, Wang Dan, a student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, was released on medical parole to the United States because China wanted to maintain a good relationship prior to Clinton’s visit to China. Now, despite Obama’s visit, China will not release Hu Jia or Liu Xiaobo, both dissidents and human rights activists in China, because the US’s agenda towards human rights in China has softened.”

It further explains that China is a primary holder of U.S. bonds – totaling nearly $800 billion – meaning that with the current U.S. economic instability, it is very unlikely that the United States would want to displease China.

Furthermore, it also pointed out that the United States will need China’s cooperation in resolving issues related to terrorism or nuclear weapons production in North Korea and Iran, which the author said is another concern Obama has when bringing up human rights issues in China.

However, Chinese media in Hong Kong believe human rights remain an inevitable issue between the U.S.- China because several Chinese dissidents and activists were taken away by the Chinese government before Obama’s arrival.

According to a news report from Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily Zhao Lianhai, an activist for victims of melamine contaminated milk powder, was taken away by police from his residence, along with his computers, cameras and video tapes, before Obama’s arrival. Pastor Zhang Mingxuan and his wife, both members of an underground Christian group called Chinese Christian Family Association, were also kept imprisoned in a hotel in Henan. And authorities questioned the wife of Hu Jia and other activists.

Obama will stay in Beijing until Nov. 18 before continuing his trip to South Korea, the last stop of his weeklong Asia visit. Obama visited Japan and Singapore before arriving in China.

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