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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Chinese online users bombard Obama with questions

November 16, 2009

Francois Bougon/AFP)
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
November 15, 2009

BEIJING, Nov. 15 -- The state of Barack Obama's
marriage and Tibet are just two of the topics
raised in thousands of questions submitted by
Chinese Internet users ahead of the US president's maiden visit to China.

The websites of the official Xinhua news agency
and the People's Daily have for days been
collecting questions for a planned meeting
between Obama and students in Shanghai on Monday
where he also aims to address online users.

"The details of the Shanghai event are still
being worked out. Netizens' questions were
solicited by and we expect the
president to answer a few of them," US embassy
spokeswoman Susan Stevenson told AFP.

Many net users have taken up China's usual
grievances against the United States -- from
protectionism to support of Taiwan and US stances
on Xinjiang and Tibet -- but it was impossible to
verify the spontaneity of the questions.

"The United States has announced a series of
anti-dumping measures towards China, which
approved the Disney project in Shanghai -- do you
not think China is loyal to the United States,
which has not respected China?" says one contributor.

"If China used the same methods towards (Al-Qaeda
chief Osama) bin Laden that the United States use
towards the Dalai Lama, what would be your
impression?" asks another, referring to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

"To protect American interests, you bring about
redundancy for around 100 Chinese workers. Do you
think that's normal?" asked a further questioner,
reflecting Beijing's concerns over a rise in protectionism.

Other questions are more surprising.

"Why have many American presidents had daughters
and not sons?" asks one. "Could you talk to the
NBA and let Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets win
the championship?" queries another.

Some inquisitive souls even venture into Obama's
private life -- "Is your marriage happy? What in
your opinion are the foundations of a successful
relationship?" -- or mention the president's half-brother who lives in China.

The two official websites are subject to
censorship, but some voices critical of China's
communist regime have still managed to slip through the net.

"Is there corruption among American leaders and
what do you do to prevent such a phenomenon?" one
online user says, in a veiled criticism of
rampant corruption among China's officials.

"What do you think of the typically Chinese way
of interpreting freedom of expression, with a
propaganda department that filters comments and
removes messages?" asks one contributor on the People's Daily website.

Highlighting the importance of the Internet in
China, which has the world's largest online
population of more than 330 million users, the US
embassy organised a meeting with a dozen
well-known Chinese bloggers on Thursday.

Jin Rao, who rose to prominence with his website aimed at exposing the
Western media's reporting mistakes, and others
met with embassy officials ahead of Obama's
visit, which begins Sunday in Shanghai.

The aim of the meeting was to "hear the voices of
bloggers, outside of traditional media," Jin explained on his website.

And the US consulate in the southern city of
Guangzhou has set up an account on micro-blogging
website Twitter to post live feeds from Obama's meeting in Shanghai.

Twitter is blocked in China, but online users
still access it regularly, managing to bypass the
so-called "Great Firewall of China" by using proxy servers.
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