Obama reaches out to China in first visit
Monday, November 16, 2009
SHANGHAI -- President Obama met a carefully screened audience of Chinese students in a town hall-style meeting on Monday, telling them that relations between the United States and China have often faced "tumultuous winds," but that the two countries have developed "deep and even dramatic ties."
"Surely we have known setbacks and challenges over the last 30 years," Obama said during his first public appearance in China during his eight-day trip to Asia. But, he added, "the notion that we must be adversaries is not predestined."
The event was billed as an opportunity for Obama to reach beyond Chinese officialdom. But virtually every aspect of the meeting was scripted.
Obama's audience, selected and coached by Chinese officials, was bused to the venue from eight universities. Questioned briefly as they were hustled into the hall, the students said they were mostly members of the ruling Communist Party.
The meeting, attended by nearly 500 students, was held at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, a hyper-modern complex located in Pudong, a new development zone far from the city center. Police sealed off the museum and blocked off nearby streets. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also met students during their own trips to China but did so on university campuses.
Obama, in opening remarks, described the United States as a nation that had endured painful chapters in its history because of its core ideals, including a belief that government should reflect the will of the people. He said the United States did not seek to impose "any system of government on any other nation," but said "America will always speak out for its core principles around the world."
"We made progress because of our belief in those core principles that have served as our compass in the darkest of storms," Obama said.
He did not begin taking questions before this edition went to press.
Before the meeting, Liu Yupang, a 21-year-old mechanical engineering student from Shanghai's Jiaotong University, said he and fellow students had been given an afternoon of "training." He said they could ask Obama what they wanted but had been ordered to take a "friendly attitude." Liu is a party member.
Chinese officials held newspaper reporters traveling with the White House in a separate "viewing room" from which Obama and the students could barely be seen.
A sign outside the Museum informed visitors that the premises were closed from Nov. 14 to 16 for "maintenance needs." U.S. and Chinese officials haggled for weeks over the format of the Shanghai meeting, with the United States asking that the meeting be as freewheeling as possible, and the Chinese demanding the opposite.
Live video of the event was streamed on the official White House Web site to reach as many members of the Chinese public as possible by circumventing the Chinese government's strict control of information.