Obama's China Visit Sparks Fascination, Curiosity

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BEIJING, China -- President Barack Obama visited with students in the Chinese city of Beijing on Monday during his first trip to the increasingly important Asian nation.

The president's agenda also includes a visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Many Chinese are curious about America's new leader and his plans for U.S. - China relations. However, for several of the nation's residents, Obama's visit was as much about curiosity as admiration.

During his China visit, President Obama encouraged the Asian nation to embrace universal freedoms including freedom of religion. CBN News Reporter George Thomas appeared on the CBN Newschannel's Morning program to discuss how China might respond to the president's challenge.

"I think he's cool," said one Chinese man. "Everything about him is so unique, his story, his background."

Seventeen-year-old Bai Hanchen agreed.

"He is unlike any other American president I have ever seen," Hanchen said.

Polls show Obama enjoys a level of personal popularity here.

"I like him because he uses a Blackberry," another resident said. "He stays in touch with the world very closely."

America's Economic Future

While there is obvious support here for the president, many people CBN News spoke with said Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, was good for U.S.-China relations.

"He stabilized the U.S. - China relations, nothing wrong with Bush policy in Asia, especially in China," Tsinghua University's Zhe Sun said.

But with a new man in charge, some like insurance broker Cai Le are less concerned about presidential popularity, and more about America's economic future.

"We are loaning the U.S. a lot of money and I want to know if that money will be returned," Le said.

Obama is the first American president to visit China within his first year in the Oval Office - an indication of China's rising stature on the global stage and soon to be world's second largest economy.

"Our economic growth has made us more confident and mature as a nation," said Peking University's Zhang Haibin.

The president will spend the next three days pressing the Chinese to play their part on a whole host of contentious issues - from the global economy, Afghanistan and Pakistan to North Korea, Iran and climate change.

But Chinese analysts aren't anticipating any major breakthroughs.

"China wants to be treated as an equal partner, but China always says it does not want to play a leading role like the United States," Sun said.

Sun expects thornier issues like human rights, democracy and religious freedom are likely to be raised only quietly, if at all.

For Obama, this key stop on his Asia tour is less about playing hardball and more about reassuring the Chinese of his commitment to a country that has invested over a trillion dollars in U.S. debt.

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George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Sr. Reporter

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