During President Obama's recent trip to China, the US-China Joint Statement highlighted the need for improved bilateral communications in many areas. Unfortunately, one vital channel of communications is compromised: the Chinese government continues to heavily censor the web, particularly social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, most blogs, forums, wikis, and others). While the rest of the world strengthens both personal and professional communications on international sites, the Chinese aren't present.
This is a serious and intractable problem. Past entreaties to the Chinese government from both internal and external organizations have had little impact on censorship policy.
But this may change.
During his Shanghai town hall, President Obama made one bombshell announcement: the US would increase the number of American university students studying in China to 100,000 over four years.
While this new program is significant and beneficial for many reasons, it is likely to have marked impact on the state and effectiveness of Chinese censorship.
What better way to introduce Chinese youth to social media sites (and how to access them through various technologies) than to send 100,000 laptop-toting, Facebook-addicted American students to live in dormitories across the Middle Kingdom?
The State Department has yet to provide details on how this program will be organized. Nonetheless, Obama's student exchange program will not only improve language skills and mutual understanding, it will likely help open up the web in China as well.
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