The President is in Tokyo today, and will be in China for the first half of next week. In advance of the trip, our State Department hosted simultaneous press conferences in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou for audiences composed primarily of bloggers– a first for the U.S. in China. The attendees– a mix of English- and Chinese-language bloggers– were able to openly ask questions and comment on China’s internet restrictions, and several bloggers live-Tweeted the proceedings.
This is yet another example of the very smart 21st Century Statecraft being plied by the Clinton Department of State. Rather than limiting ourselves to interacting strictly with the governments of foreign countries, we can engage directly with people around the world. By lending credence to China’s bloggers, we help them in their effort to become a respected and efficacious voice for change in their own country. Even in cases in which our own objectives don’t quite line up with the ideals of the bloggers themselves, empowering a multitude of voices is a big step in the right direction.
We do, naturally, seem to be getting a bit of pushback from Beijing. When he stops in Shanghai next week, President Obama is hoping to hold a town hall meeting with Chinese youth in his typical free-flowing, agenda-free format. Rumors abound that the Chinese and U.S. officials are having some trouble agreeing on the terms for the event, and it may be scuttled as a result. Fine. I, for one, would rather see the town hall ditched than see a phony compromise event in which the attendees have no freedom to speak their mind.