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Speech to students important part of visit

President Obama’s recent trip to China was, for the most part, hardly worth mentioning. You might expect a meeting between two of the world’s most powerful countries to result in statements that shape global policy. Nothing like that happened this time, at least not according to the U.S. media.

But while American media and Washington’s ambassador to Beijing, Jon Huntsman, continue fighting about what actually occurred in meetings with the Chinese administration, we will focus on what matters to us: his talk with students.

While in China, Obama was able to speak to a group of four hundred specially selected Chinese students. To an audience described as docile by ABC News, Obama talked about the future of the China-U.S. relationship, openness, and freedom of expression and religion. The students shot back with hard-hitting questions like: “Why did you get that Nobel Prize?”

According to reports, students left the room thinking Obama was an enjoyable and friendly man whose solutions might not work in China. Possibly, this reflects more upon the attitudes of the students chosen by party and university leadership to be present, or maybe this is part of a larger trend, with the intellectual youth of China believing they need to find their own ways to progress as a country. The “change” campaign that Obama ran on, led by community involvement and transparency of information, may not be the right fit for China.

While the meeting with students was originally intended to be televised nationally, it was only shown on local Shanghai stations and at “watch parties” around China, although the entire transcript is now available online.

So as America discusses at length whether Obama pushed hard enough regarding nuclear waste and Iran, we here at The Tartan are considering these four hundred students who heard our President speak. It is their voices that will be directing the future of China.