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In China, Obama Backs Open Internet

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The students at the Shanghai town hall were carefully screened by Chinese authorities, and some said they had been given training before they could take part. One of those who was chosen to attend the session was NPRs former news assistant in Shanghai, Qian Jin. He is now studying for his PhD in global communications at Fudan University. And he says, he was pleased to hear these first words out of President Obamas mouth.

President BARACK OBAMA: (Foreign Language Speaking)

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: Good afternoon.

QIAN JIN: (Foreign Language Speaking) and this is in (unintelligible), means (foreign language spoken) you know, hello. He learned the kind of local Shanghai dialect.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm, well, how did that sound to you?

JIN: Quite impressive. I mean, quite accurate. You know, the Shanghai dialect is very hard, even for ordinary Chinese. And I think he master it very well, quite impressive.

BLOCK: That one phrase. Two syllables.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JIN: Yeah, but still you can you can tell. I mean, he still put some effort to practice. I think hes quite perfect.

BLOCK: How did you get chosen to be at this event today?

JIN: Im just surprised because - I dont know how - the choosing process. I just get a call a couple of days ago and saying, are you interested in going to the, you know, town hall meeting with Barack Obama. I say its fine, its cool and just go there and thats it, quite simple.

BLOCK: Now I gather you had a question that you wanted to ask President Obama and you didnt get a chance to. What did you want to ask him?

JIN: I want to ask about the climate change. My question is, is this time for American people to finally check the way of living, check their lifestyle in order to do their part to fight the global warming.

BLOCK: And you didnt get a chance to ask that.

JIN: Yeah, because so many people raised hands, so I didnt get a chance to ask the question.

BLOCK: You know, there was a question at the end that came not from the audience. It was read by the U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, a question that had come in over the Internet to the embassy. And it had to do with opening up the Internet and whats call the Great Firewall of China Web sites that are censored and things like that. Lets take a listen.

Pres. OBAMA: I am a big believer in technology and Im a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information. I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes.

BLOCK: And the president went on from there. Qian Jin, its interesting because apparently, the irony here is that a lot of what came out of this meeting today, including this question about the Internet, may have been posted briefly on the Internet in China, but then was taken down. What do you think about that? Does that surprise you?

JIN: I mean, based on my own experience of (unintelligible) Internet things, I mean, I can get all the option that I want to have right now. And then I think everybody is happy.

BLOCK: What did you think about President Obamas message about openness and transparency, things like that?

JIN: I think if hes just looking about Chinese Internet right now and comparing to five or three years ago without Internet or something like that, you definitely see the kind of openness in Chinese Internet. I think its improving, and people seem to get more and more understanding about Internet, what Internet can do. And I think they are getting more and more through the Internet.

BLOCK: Tell me about what happened after the presidents speech. I guess he worked the room a bit.

JIN: Yeah, he walked around the room and shook hands with the first row and then he decided to - left the hall. But, you know, we sort of get chance to get his attention. And he just, you know, returned and shook hands with us and we are all very excited.

BLOCK: Did you get a chance to talk to him?

JIN: I didnt get a chance to talk to him because so many hands waving in front of my eyes and I just get a chance to shake his hand. Its fantastic.

BLOCK: Qian Jin, thanks for talking with us.

JIN: No, no, no problem.

BLOCK: Qian Jin is studying for his PhD in global communications at Fudan University in Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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