Page last updated at 13:09 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Obama presses China over rights

President Barack Obama was speaking to students in Shanghai

US President Barack Obama has told China that individual rights and freedoms should be available to all.

He told an audience of Chinese students that certain freedoms were universal - and not just limited to Americans.

Speaking at a question-and-answer session in Shanghai, Mr Obama added that China and the US were not predestined to be adversaries.

Later, he met Chinese President Hu Jintao for dinner in Beijing ahead of a summit on Tuesday.

Mr Obama's visit has received minimal coverage in the Chinese media, with his arrival in Beijing mentioned in a report 25 minutes into state TV's evening news programme.

The Shanghai meeting was not mentioned in the bulletin, although it was carried live on local Shanghai TV and streamed on two national internet portals.

Freedom of expression

In his speech at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, the US president praised China's efforts in lifting millions of people out of poverty, saying it was "unparalleled" in human history.

Chris Hogg, BBC correspondent, Shanghai - 16 November 2009
Chris Hogg, BBC News, Shanghai

The president was cautious and careful in his town hall meeting. He praised his hosts but, using the language of diplomacy, he also talked about rights and freedom.

The US ambassador to China read out an internet user's question about freedom of expression on the internet. The president's response? The US and China have "different traditions".

On the streets of the city we found many who were happy he was here. "His visit shows that China's influence is increasing," one woman told me. "The distance between our countries is getting shortened."

But the BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says Mr Obama also made comments that his hosts would have been less pleased to hear.

"We do not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation, but we also don't believe that the principles we stand for are unique to our nation," he said.

"These freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation - we believe are universal rights."

China is an authoritarian country in which there are no elections for the country's national leaders.

Media outlets and the internet are heavily censored, and those who speak out against the government are often imprisoned.

Mr Obama added: "They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities, whether they are in the United States, China or any nation."

Song Yang, retired, Beijing
No one can abuse China or treat China differently because our country has its dignity
Song Yang, Beijing

After his main speech, he addressed the issue again in a question and answer session with Chinese students - many of whom spoke English.

Mr Obama said freedom of information - including open access to the internet - was important.

"That makes our democracy stronger because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear - it forces me to examine what I'm doing," he said.

He said the internet was a powerful tool to mobilise people and had helped him win the presidency last year.

Nobel prize

The US president said there was no reason that the United States and China - a "majestic" country - should not co-operate.

"We have known setbacks and challenges over the last 30 years. Our relationship has not been without disagreement and difficulty. But the notion that we must be adversaries is not predestined," he said.

map showing Obama tour locations
1. Friday 13: Arrived in Japan
2. Saturday 14: Joined Apec summit in Singapore
3. Sunday 15: Had talks with Russia's President Medvedev before leaving for China
4. Tuesday 17: Summit in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao
5. Wednesday 18: Ends tour in South Korea

The United States does not want to constrain China's rise, the US president added. He made a similar comment a few days ago in Japan.

Mr Obama's question-and-answer session included queries about Taiwan, the Nobel Peace Prize and cultural diversity.

The president then flew to Beijing to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao for dinner.

The two are expected to hold talks on Tuesday on issues such as trade imbalances, the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea, and the effort to tackle climate change.

Mr Obama is on his first trip to Asia as US president.

He has visited Japan and Singapore, and is scheduled to fly to South Korea after leaving China.

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Telegraph Stevie Wonder plays in the Great Hall of the People - 3 hrs ago
IOL Obama presses for online freedom - 11 hrs ago
Al Jazeera Hu and Obama pledge cooperation - 23 hrs ago
Sky News Obama Challenges China On Human Rights - 24 hrs ago
Jakarta Post Obama, Hu talk global challenges as world watches - 26 hrs ago

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