The 'Great Firewall of China' and Free Speech

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BEIJING, China -- While President Barack Obama was greeted with protests in South Korea, in China he was met with censorship.

His trip to the communist nation highlighted the ongoing lack of free speech in the Asian country that extends even to the Internet.

Obama Town Hall Censored

It's a place where 25-year-old Yang Yang feels the most relaxed - the corner spot in her neighborhood coffee shop.

"I try to come here as often as I can," Yang told CBN News. "A cup of coffee, my computer, and wireless Internet access -- and I feel happy."

However, on this day, she's in a bad mood, because not a single one of China's 12 state-run national television channels carried Obama's live town hall meeting with students earlier this week.

Among the topics discussed during the town hall, the president spoke about freedom of speech.

The Chinese government promised to stream the event live on a number of leading Internet news sites. But that too was axed at the last moment.

Government officials posted a transcript on the Web, which was also heavily censored.

"The government can't do this to its people. You just can't delete and censor information that you don't agree with," Yang said.

Even trying to download some of the highlights of Obama's speech can take quite some time on the Chinese Internet.

The 'Great Firewall of China'

Some 350 million Chinese are flocking to Internet cafes and in recent years, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been a big hit in the communist country.

But since March of this year, the government has shut them down all for the purpose of creating what the government says is a "safe and harmonious society."

Beijing is often criticized for having the so-called "Great Firewall of China." Using sophisticated technology, Chinese authorities are able to stop unwanted traffic from entering or leaving a network.

"I think the government has to come up with new and better solutions than resorting to such actions," Yang said. "So many young people today turn to the internet for entertainment, news, culture and history. We should have the right to access these materials without controls."

It was a sentiment echoed by President Obama during the town hall event.

"Free Internet or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength and I think should be encouraged," he said.

For decades, the dominant theory, especially in the West, has been that capitalism, trade, and investment in China were gradually going to change the country's political system.

However, some China watchers, like James Mann, author of The China Fantasy, aren't totally convinced.

"China could, it could descend into chaos or most likely of all, I say, there is a third scenario which is China could proceed on its current economic path and also maintain the same, very repressive political systems it has got today," Mann explained.

Despite some of the government restrictions, Yang is a little more upbeat about the future

"We have come a long way in the last 60 years," Yang said. "We have witnessed so many changes and we are opening up more and more, and increasingly we are gaining more and more freedoms."

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