In China, first lady praises free speech

 

First lady Michelle Obama, though largely avoiding controversial topics during her visit, criticized China's restrictive free speech policies in a Beijing interview.

Obama, who is traveling with her mother and daughters to China on spring break, took the swipe while discussing how education and cultural exchange can cultivate economic growth.

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"It's important to ensure that information and ideas flow freely over the Internet and through the media because that's how we learn about each other, and it's how we decide which ideas we think are best, by debating them vigorously and deciding for ourselves," the first lady told financial and business website Caixin Online.

She went on to say that free speech could be "a messy process" and noted her husband was frequently questioned and criticized in the U.S. press.

"But we wouldn't trade it for anything in the world because time and again, we have seen that countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices of all their citizens can be heard," the first lady said.

The interview was the second time Obama waded into the diplomatically delicate topic. During a speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University, the first lady again pressed for open Internet access.

She said technology "can open up the entire world and expose us to ideas and innovations we never could have imagined.

"And that’s why it’s so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media, because that’s how we discover the truth," Obama said. "That’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities and our country and our world. And that’s how we decide which values and ideas we think are best — by questioning and debating them vigorously, by listening to all sides of an argument, and by judging for ourselves."

The first lady's trip has largely skewed away from hot-button topics, instead featuring what the White House has billed as a "soft diplomacy" push. In recent days, she has toured the Great Wall, seen the Terracotta Army, visited a panda nursery and played pingpong with China’s first lady.

On Monday, President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Netherlands, ahead of a nuclear summit. He said his family was having "an extraordinary time" and thanked Xi for "his outstanding hospitality towards my family."

Obama also said that in past meetings, the U.S. and Chinese had been "able to work through frictions that exist in our relations around issues like human rights."

Xi said he was "our position of no confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation with regard to the United States" and said the Obamas visit to China is "a trip of friendship and exchange."

He also joked that after meeting the first lady in Beijing, "she asked me to formally convey to you her best regards."