In Shanghai, President Obama Recognizes Access to Information as Universal Right

16 November 2009

by Yvette M. Chin

Shanghai, China On his first trip to Asia, President Obama made unequivocal statements about access to information as a universal human right at a rare town-hall style meeting of university students November 16. Over 2 years ago, the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Open Government Information (OGI Regulations) were published on April 24, 2007, and became effective one year later–a turning point for the deeply ingrained culture of government secrecy in China.

Speaking about the sometimes strained relationship between the US and China, President Obama made what the media is calling delicately balanced message that both admonishes the Chinese government and tries to encourage cooperation:

“We do not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation, but we also don’t believe that the principles that we stand for are unique to our nation. These freedoms of expression and worship, of access to information and political participation, we believe are universal rights.”

Even though the town-hall meeting was available through a live feed on the White House website, TV coverage was restricted to Shanghai. Still, many thousands people throughout China attended the event virtually in classrooms, coffee houses, living rooms, and at “watch parties” organized by the U.S. Embassy and Consulates. The President also spoke at length about how technology has facilitated free information, diversity, and openness, thus inspiring innovation, creativity, and even strength:

“But I am a big believer in technology and I’m a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information. I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable. They can begin to think for themselves. That generates new ideas. It encourages creativity.

And so I’ve always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I’m a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States that I discussed before, and I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.”

President Obama had met President Hu Jintao when he first arrived in China and meets again November 17 with President Hu and other Chinese leaders to discuss climate change, trade, North Korea, and Iran. White House aides have said Obama will raise several human rights issues privately with Chinese leaders.


Read more about the evolution of China’s OGI Regulations at

Jamie P. Horsley, China Adopts First Nationwide Open Government Information Regulations, 9 May 2007.

Shanghai Advances the Cause of Open Government Information in China, 20 April 2004.

Jamie P. Horsley, China’s Pioneering Foray Into Open Government: A Tale of Two Cities, 14 July 2003.



Video of Obama’s remarks

Text of Obama’s remarks

The China Law Center at Yale University Law School


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