Students at town-hall meeting were coached cadres, reports say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 November, 2009, 12:00am

The audience of 400 students who met Barack Obama in Shanghai on Monday were a team of well-groomed and Communist Party-coached student cadres and young people, mainland media reported yesterday.

The Nanfang Metro Daily reported that all the undergraduates and postgraduates who took part in the event had completed a detailed training course run by Fudan University.

The paper quoted a teacher in the student affairs office of Tongji University as saying the course was prepared by the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, and taught by Fudan professors. The classes focused on Sino-US relations and related policies, the 'meaning' of the event and main points of emphasis. Tongji was one of eight Shanghai universities to select students.

The hour-long town-hall-style meeting had been billed as an opportunity for Obama to connect with Chinese students, but it appears the audience was carefully vetted to minimise the chances of them stepping out of line and making any anti-establishment comments.

Almost all the students were dressed in business suits, apart from a handful who came in sweatshirts and jeans, and remained quietly deferential throughout most of the proceedings.

Half of the eight questions posed to Obama came from the students, with the other four having been posted online.

The president was asked about what he aimed to achieve during his four-day visit to China, his thoughts on cross-strait relations, next year's Shanghai World Expo, his tips for success and his controversial winning of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The question that allowed Obama to make his most controversial comments - on the subject of internet censorship - was read out by Obama's ambassador to Beijing.

Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs He Yafei confirmed yesterday the government had run background checks on the students.

'As for whether the ... government controls the list of the participants, I think there's no such issue,' he said. 'The lists are agreed [upon] by both sides, and the United States also had invited guests to the Shanghai town-hall meeting. The Chinese side had the responsibility to ensure the security of President Obama.'