US first lady Michelle Obama was quoted today, Saturday, as saying that open access to online information is a ‘universal right.’ What is so special about that declaration? Well, it was part of the speech she delivered to an audience comprising of about 200 American and Chinese students in Beijing, China.
Mrs. Obama was a guest speaker at an event at the Peking University in the Chinese capital city. She is currently in a week-long trip to the country to promote education as well as cultural ties.
Some observers thought that Mrs. Obama was careful not to directly ask China to offer greater freedom to its citizens when it comes to Internet access. That was what she should do, says some analysts, because she is on the tip to steer clear a number of complicated issues and to attempt to build goodwill between the two nations through soft diplomacy.
In that speech, Mrs. Obama opined that it is important that there is freedom for the flow of ideas over the Internet and the media. She reiterated that she values that freedom even if she and her husband are almost always facing criticisms from the media and from other American citizens through the social media.
She admitted that it is not always easy to deal with such adverse opinion from the public. But she insisted that she values that freedom and she would not trade it for just about anything in this world.
It can be noted that censorship is a common practice in Chinese news media as well as online access. Chinese people in the mainland could not actually access Websites or information about controversial topics especially those that are critical to the local government. But there are special software products that could possibly circumvent such restrictions.
Human rights abroad
Interestingly, the US has always been criticizing China over its human rights record, particularly its lack of legislations over freedom of speech protection. She was not the first US first lady who has criticized other nations’ human rights records during their trips abroad while their husbands were still in office.
Before Mrs. Obama’s speech, US Ambassador to China Max Baucus also discussed Internet freedom when he addressed the students in the audience. He said that all people from the across the world could be interconnected through Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. Ironically, Facebook and Twitter are banned in China.