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Chinese Netizens Question Obama
Netizens ask thousands of questions before Obama's China visit
Jay Hauben (jhauben)     Print Article 
Published 2009-11-23 11:33 (KST)   
Last week, the gaze of netizens in China was put on the visit of US President Barack Obama that was to occur Nov 15-18. As part of his visit, a session was planned in Shanghai where President Obama would answer questions form a live audience of students and young people. The US Embassy in Beijing also requested that netizens send questions for President Obama some of which would be included. Xinhuanet and People's Daily, both national news media in China, also requested questions from net users. Within days, they received thousands of questions.

Blogs (1) exist which regularly translate netizen posts and discussions into English that appear first in Chinese. Quickly, some translated a few of the submitted questions.(2) The questions translated covered a wide range of topics.

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Many questions had an internationalist perspective. For example:

"It was proven that Iraq did not have WMD. Can you represent the US government in apologizing to the Iraqi people and make war reparations?"

"I want to ask President Obama, how do you deserve the Nobel Prize? Please be honest!"

"American soldiers are not welcome in Afghanistan so why are you still there killing their civilians? Why are you going there to 'provoke' them to become human bombs? Right, it's your anti-terrorism business but it's innocent civilians who died. Before you were there, they had a better life."

"Mr. President, do you think it is a little ironic to receive the Nobel Peace Prize while American troops are deployed all over the world and involved in two wars?"

"Almost every US president waged a war. Will you do that during your term of office?"

"I am very concerned about the Middle East. I remember during the election campaign, you said that if Iran is willing, the United States and Iran have contact. I would like to know what kind of contact with Iran? Have the two sides talked on how? In addition, how do you look at Israel's policies?"

One netizen, rather than asking President Obama a question, gave his advice:

"Obama, for your soldiers and all the peace-loving people around the globe, please stop your invasion of the world!"

Many of the netizens questioned what they see as a double standard in US foreign policy:

"How would Americans feel if our leader hugged Osama Bin Laden like US presidents did to the Dalai Lama? The meeting would hurt our feelings, and we are all hoping for mutual respect in this relationship."

"If in the United States expression of the will of the people is democracy, then when the Chinese people express the collective will, what do you think that is? Did some of you think about the US policy toward China but did not consider the examination of the Chinese people's wishes? What is the reason so many Chinese people are very disgusted with some American politicians?"

"If someday Hawaii wants to separate from America, will your government and people support it? If one country uses the excuse of helping Hawaii to protect its people to sell them weapons, in order to keep balance between Hawaii and US, will you still support the 'friendly' relationship with that country?"

The US wants China to strengthen its currency because China has such a large trade surplus. The theory is that a stronger currency will make exports more expensive and thus correct a trade imbalance. But a netizen asked:

"If exchange rate caused trade imbalance, then the Korean won and the Australian dollar should be appreciated since the two countries had trade surplus for a long time. Based on this, I want to know, as US President why don't you think more about how much US plundered from the world's laboring people with depreciation of its dollar? Even with appreciated Chinese RMB we can't buy Unocal!"

Some had economic questions for President Obama:

"Chinese Hong Kong will probably introduce EU dollars to its financial system. What do you think?"

"I am more concerned about economic issues. All along, the United States is the world's liberal economic model to learn from. Many countries saw, the United States as the 'teacher.' But with the financial crisis, many people have asked, and now 'teacher' is a problem, we "students" how to do this? Can you talk about economies from the point of view of developing countries?"

"Many people think that the dollar in the international monetary system is in a position of hegemony. For other countries the existing system is unfair. With the United States as the largest vested interests, will not the future of the international financial system face increased obstacles to reform?"

"Your country always complains about the trade imbalance with us. Then why don't you lift the embargo of high technology products on us? We can make all low tech goods. So tell me why and what we should buy from you?"

There were also questions about Obama's personal life and some comments wishing President Obama well and hoping for good relations between China and the US.

Besides the request for questions, the US Embassy organized ahead of Obama's visit a live exchange of questions and answers between a dozen or so well known Chinese bloggers and the US diplomatic mission in China. The character of the questions asked by the bloggers seemed somewhat different from the character expressed in the questions like those above which appeared in English translation online.

Some of the bloggers showed concern about the efforts by the government of China to supervise the content available on the internet. One asked "whether Obama will update his Twitter and Facebook as usual while in China?" That appeared as his way to point out that Twitter and Facebook access is sometimes blocked in China.

Many of the other questions were also serious. For example, Peking University journalism professor and author Yong Hu asked what the US saw as common values between China and the US.

Rao Jin, founder of the Anti-CNN website that scrutinizes China coverage in foreign media and exposes distortions, commented that the youth in China better understand the West than the youth in the US understand China. He asked if President Obama would be able to promote more exchanges between Chinese and American young people.

He also broadened the criticism of media control by commenting that with the CIA's increased special powers, he was worried:

"I am concerned. I am a user of Gmail, Facebook and Twitter, which many people around the world use. The CIA can use special means to enter those services and obtain personal information. How can users like us be guaranteed that our personal data are secure? Also, I know that the USA has enacted certain laws to monitor the personal email information. Will the Internet control and filtering in the name of anti-terrorism violate the human rights and personal privacy of all users?"

Thousands of netizens in China commenting on a political event is not unusual. There are over 350 million internet users in China and that number is steadily increasing. More than 100 million of these net users come online for public rather than simply for personal and entertainment purposes. They regularly read and post comments and questions in online forums. Among these are netizens who act as watchdogs over the Chinese government and society.

Every year since 2003, there has been dozens of national netizen commotions around social and political issues, sometimes exposing fraud or corruption or questioning government actions or explanations, sometimes discussing foreign events like disruption of the Olympic touch relay. They have become a normal aspect of Chinese society.

By the example of their questions to US President Obama for his visit to China, netizens in China have applied their social concern and added a new input mechanism for foreign policy consideration.

(1)For example: Fool's Mountain and EastSouthWestNorth
(2) See for example, "Chinese Netizen Questions For Obama During His Visit" by Python at China Smack
There are some netizen cartoons in the China Smack article
쏞hinese Netizen Questions For Obama During His Visit".
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Jay Hauben

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