- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BEIJING | The ceremony that served as President Obama’s formal welcome to this city had all the visual grandeur and red-carpeted elegance a television camera crew could desire - a military review, a long walk across the opulent Great Hall of the People, an expansive mural depicting the Great Wall.

And it had one element that made it ideal for the Chinese national broadcast station, CCTV: silence.

In his first official trip to China, Mr. Obama visited the Forbidden City, spoke at length with Chinese leaders about greenhouse gas emissions and nuclear disarmament, and delivered some of the toughest rhetoric a U.S. president has ever uttered on Chinese soil about open government and universal rights.

But among the Chinese people, the popular American president was seen, more than heard.

Before he departed Wednesday, Mr. Obama proved he could do little to unlock the iron-tight grip the Chinese maintained on how his visit would be viewed here.

U.S. Embassy officials said they received numerous reports that broadcasts of the president’s two main public appearances in China were at least partially interrupted. The Chinese altered plans to televise Mr. Obama’s town hall with 500 students in Shanghai, showing the event only on a smaller, local station. U.S. Embassy officials here said a Hong Kong-based station that attempted to beam images of the event into Beijing had its feed cut after Mr. Obama took his second question.

The People’s Daily online briefly summarized Mr. Obama as telling the crowd that the Internet has “enormous power in assisting information dissemination,” but made no mention of his comments on how censorship undermines debate that drives positive change.

And the American president’s one chance to engage publicly with Chinese President Hu Jintao, in a planned news conference, was abruptly scaled back so that neither man could take questions from reporters.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged Tuesday that the president did not reach as many people as he would have liked, but said it was unrealistic to believe the Chinese state-run media would suddenly change after a generation of censorship and tight image control.

“I did not expect, and I can speak authoritatively for the president on this, that we thought the waters would part and everything would change over the course of our almost 2 1/2-day trip to China,” Mr. Gibbs said. “We understand there’s a lot of work to do and that we’ll continue to work hard at making more progress.”

For the first time since he arrived in China, Mr. Obama publicly raised the issue of the Chinese crackdown in Tibet.

“I spoke to President Hu about America’s bedrock beliefs that all men and women possess certain fundamental human rights,” Mr. Obama said during the carefully orchestrated event with Chinas president in an ornate marble chamber in the Hall of the People.

“We did note that while we recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any concerns and differences that the two sides may have,” he said.

Despite groundbreaking public remarks from Mr. Obama about Tibet and Internet censorship, the Chinese-controlled media appeared to give the American president far less leeway than his predecessors when it came to reaching the Chinese people.

During President George W. Bush’s visit in 2002, his words were broadcast live and distributed widely to the Chinese public.

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