Next generation needs education and 'free flow of ideas', says Michelle Obama

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 4:56am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 5:35am

The free flow of information and ideas was important for young Chinese and Americans to work towards a shared future, Michelle Obama has told a leading mainland news organisation.

In an interview with online media outlet Caixin published yesterday , the American first lady stressed that good education - her chosen focus of the trip - to was vital to equip the next generation in both countries to face the challenges of the environment, economy and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In diplomatically worded replies to questions sent by Caixin before her departure to China, Obama touched on soft topics like family values, but also raised internet and media freedom.

"In order to make those kinds of connections, it's important to ensure that information and ideas flow freely over the internet and through the media," Obama said, according to the version of the interview published on Caixin's English-language site.

"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," she said.

Freedom of expression had brought the first lady and her husband, President Barack Obama, "plenty of questioning and criticism", she added.

"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."

Her comments echoed the growing concerns on the mainland that authorities are tightening their control on internet commentary and discussion. Earlier this month, dozens of prominent WeChat accounts, including those by popular and outspoken columnists, were closed or suspended, following the closing ceremony of the annual parliamentary sessions in Beijing.

Referring to her Chinese counterpart Peng Liyuan, wife of President Xi Jinping, Obama said they shared a number of things in common.

"We have both worked hard to balance our roles as mothers and professionals, and we both have the great honour of representing our countries," she said.