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Barack Obama’s Beijing blues

world Updated: Feb 12, 2010 00:38 IST
Reshma Patil

It’s not the best of times in Beijing to confess to idolising U.S. President Barack Obama and his ideas of human rights that get censored in the Chinese media.

Zhang Jingyang, who lives in a crammed university dormitory in Beijing and dreams of studying in the U.S., keenly tracks Obama’s speeches. “I like Obama’s views on liberty, democracy, human rights and freedom,’’ she told the Hindustan Times.

This week, human rights topped the growing list of Sino-U.S. disputes as a Beijing court upheld an 11-year sentence for dissident Liu Xiaobo for ‘inciting subversion’. Liu was arrested over a year ago for co-authoring Charter 08, an appeal — since banned on the Internet — signed by over 300 Chinese seeking greater rights and political reforms.

“We believe that he should not have been sentenced in the first place and should be released immediately,’’ said a statement from U.S. ambassador Jon M Huntsman in Beijing.

“Persecution of individuals for the peaceful expression of political views is inconsistent with internationally-recognised norms of human rights.”

In the government-run media, Obama’s ratings are still plummeting as the two powers trade barbs over U.S. missiles for Taiwan and the Chinese currency exchange rate, to Chinese duties on American chicken feet. Chinese analysts are backing sanctions against U.S. firms and calling for beefed up military spending.

Zhang admits she’s ‘a little disappointed’ in her American idol. “Taiwan is part of China,’’ she said earnestly. “And if Obama discusses separatism with the Dalai Lama, it’s not good.’’ But the aspiring teacher doesn’t feel enraged enough to boycott American goods like the nationalistic Chinese boycott of French products after Tibetan protests had disrupted the Olympics torch relay in Paris in 2008. This calmer street view is also echoed among independent analysts.

“The Sino-U.S. trade relationship is unlikely to escalate to a very serious trade war,’’ Shanghai-based Chenhao Zhang, senior analyst at the China research firm J L McGregor, told HT.

On Thursday, Huntsman wrote in the Global Times, calling Sino-U.S. ties the world’s ‘most complex and vital’.

“We cannot, we must not, allow our disagreements to negate aspects of our relationship that are so critical to the region and the world,” he said.

It was published with a photograph of the Ambassador with his adopted Chinese daughter.