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Societies Free of Internet Censorship Are Stronger, Obama Says

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — The free flow of information on the Internet builds a stronger society, encourages creativity and helps people around the world participate in the political process and hold their governments accountable, President Obama told Chinese students in Shanghai November 16.

Speaking at a town hall meeting ahead of meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing, Obama said he is “a big believer” in technology and openness and a “big supporter of noncensorship” even though it means that he finds himself the subject of constant criticism. In the United States, “the fact that we have free Internet or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength,” and the president said open Internet use should be encouraged.

“I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me. I actually think that 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 said. “It forces me to examine what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis, to see am I really doing the very best that I could be doing for the people of the United States.”

There is a price to openness, since extremists can also use the technology to mobilize, but “I think that the good outweighs the bad so much that it’s better to maintain that openness,” he said.

The more freely information is allowed to flow online, including through services like Twitter, “the stronger the society becomes,” he said. “Because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable. They can begin to think for themselves. That generates new ideas. It encourages creativity,” not only in politics and government, but also in business.

Uncensored Internet use also “helps to draw the world together,” Obama said, mentioning that it gives his 11- and 8-year-old daughters “enormous power” to explore and learn about the world from their own rooms. That type of power also promotes understanding between peoples throughout the world, he said.

“BURDEN OF LEADERSHIP” ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Ties between the United States and China have greatly expanded since the establishment of formal relations in 1979. “In 1979, trade between the United States and China stood at roughly $5 billion — today it tops over $400 billion each year,” Obama said, and “as demand becomes more balanced, it can lead to even broader prosperity.”

Political cooperation has also gone beyond the Cold War rivalry that both countries shared with the former Soviet Union, with the door now opened to “partnership on the key global issues of our time: economic recovery and the development of clean energy; stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and the scourge of climate change; the promotion of peace and security in Asia and around the globe,” Obama said.

On climate change, the president said that as the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States and China have “the burden of leadership” to set an example at the upcoming conference on global warming in Copenhagen.

“Other countries around the world will be waiting for us. They will watch to see what we do. And if they say, ‘Ah, you know, the United States and China, they’re not serious about this,’ then they won’t be serious either,” he said.

Per capita, the United States consumes more energy and emits more greenhouse gases than China, but China “is growing at a much faster pace and it has a much larger population,” he said. “Unless both of our countries are willing to take critical steps in dealing with this issue, we will not be able to resolve it.”

At the same time, both countries are working to find new strategies for clean energy. “It’s a terrific opportunity … for us to learn from each other,” he said.

President Obama said there has sometimes been “disagreement and difficulty” in U.S.-China relations, but “the notion that we must be adversaries is not predestined,” especially since cooperation has brought greater prosperity and security to both countries. “We have seen what is possible when we build upon our mutual interests and engage on the basis of mutual respect,” he said.

The United States does not seek to “contain China’s rise,” Obama said. Given the interconnectedness of their economies and their shared environmental and security challenges, “power in the 21st century is no longer a zero-sum game; one country’s success need not come at the expense of another.”

Rather, “we welcome China as a strong and prosperous and successful member of the community of nations — a China that draws on the rights, strengths and creativity of individual Chinese like you,” he told the Chinese students.

Chinese constitute the second highest number of foreign students in the United States, and “we’ve seen a 50 percent increase in the study of Chinese among our own students,” Obama said. He announced that the United States “will dramatically expand the number of our students who study in China to 100,000.”

“These exchanges mark a clear commitment to build ties among our people, as surely as you will help determine the destiny of the 21st century. And I’m absolutely confident that America has no better ambassadors to offer than our young people. For they, just like you, are filled with talent and energy and optimism about the history that is yet to be written,” he said.

For Chinese students visiting the United States, “I think you will find that the American people feel very warmly towards the people of China,” Obama said. “I am very confident that, with young people like yourselves and the young people that I know in the United States, that our two great countries will continue to prosper and help to bring about a more peaceful and secure world.”

The White House transcript of Obama’s remarks ( http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2009/November/20091116095135eaifas0.900326.html ) is available on America.gov.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site: http://www.america.gov)
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