• Wed
  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 3:12pm
NewsChina
DIPLOMACY

Freedom of expression is 'birth right,' Michelle Obama tells Peking University students

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 11:24am
 

In a speech to Peking University students yesterday, US first lady Michelle Obama defended freedom of expression and other "universal rights" - sensitive concepts that mainland university professors were banned from teaching a year ago.

The remarks - the closest the first lady has so far come to discussing politics during her China visit - came during an otherwise soft speech in which she encouraged students to study abroad and cited her own success as a testament to hard work.

"When it comes to expressing yourself freely and worshipping as you choose and having open access to information, we believe those universal rights - they are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet," she said. "We believe that all people deserve the opportunity to fulfil their highest potential, as I was able to do in the United States."

Obama's audience at the university's Stanford Centre included about 200 Chinese and American students, new US ambassador Max Baucus, Peking University dean Wang Enge and the directors of top American university programmes in China.

Universal values, freedom of speech and civil rights were among seven sensitive topics banned from universities last March as part of a broader Communist Party crackdown on "dangerous" Western ideas.

Echoing her remarks in a Caixin interview before beginning her trip, Obama said she and her husband valued criticism from the public. "We have seen that countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices of and opinions of all their citizens can be heard," she said.

Obama's visit comes at a delicate time for Sino-US relations, as Beijing and Washington attempt to navigate regional territorial disputes, trade friction and sabre-rattling by North Korea. The trip by the US first lady has been widely seen by Chinese analysts as an attempt to promote US soft power in China.

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This article is now closed to comments

Masako Owada
If freedom of expression is a 'birth right' and you cannot protect yourself, it is only a moot point. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003 against the will of the UN, the freedom of expression of the rest of the world was not respected by the US and her allies. International law was not respected. On the contrary, in order to prosecute a dirty war on the Iraqis, the US and her allies acted like war criminals and came up with all kinds of lies like WMD. The US and her allies do not respect freedom of expression of weak countries and are full of lies and deceit. Nobody is fooled by the double standards.
Masako Owada
The US and her allies should start by respecting the freedom of expression of Edward Snowden a true American hero!
ghs01
Yay! I'm so please she's on Edward Snowden's side!
I Gandhi
The US and her allies have been spying on and sabotaging other countries and have a massive spying effort as part of PRISM and other insidious programs, stealing and sabotaging, actions which are criminal. Edward Snowden by exposing these criminal behaviour is a whistle blower and is like a modern day Robin Hood. That puts him in a category of great world heroes. Contrast that with the war criminals like George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.
chaz_hen
Freedom of speech in the US is for the billionaires and corporations that can buy off the government. Simple as that.
Camel
""That's why it's so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the internet and through the media," she said."
Well, she should tell this to Snowden. Then he could come home.
webbocybase
A lot of the comments on this thread imply that Mrs Obama shouldn't have discussed the importance of freedom of expression because she was being hypocritical, as the USA's record on human rights and foreign interventions leaves a lot to be desired. Well, true though the criticisms of the USA might be, it's illogical and damaging to use it as an excuse to keep quiet about this subject.
If people think that makes China right to clamp down on freedom of expression they are living in La-La Land. Perhaps if people in China were more able to enjoy freedom of expression and talk about things freely, then hundreds of millions of people might not be facing a curtailed lifespan thanks to industrial pollution that could be alleviated if it was more open to discussion.
Anyway, whether Mrs Obama was right to raise it at all is moot - chances are the CCP won't allow those remarks to be reported anyway.
jayb
problem here in gold ol' USA is, we sure have a lot of "freedom of speech".. but that's all we do.. nobody does anything... fix our social security, medicare, fix our infrastructure, fix our economy, fix our crimes and violence... none... all they do is talk... "freedom of speech"...
ennoun
Isn't Edward Snowden considered a thief and traitor by many countries? Yet, I wonder how other countries (China, Russia, Viet Nam, etc., etc.,) would have dealt with someone like him had he stolen their classified / secret information? Would he have been excuted immediately or treated as a "hero" by their citizens?
guy.pant
If it wasn't for the internet, I would have thought the U.S. was sitting on a cloud from what is taught at school and the reach of Ameri-centric media.

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