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Liz Carter senior contributor

After Obama Heckling Incident, Chinese Netizens Wonder, ‘What If That Happened Here?’

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Even China was listening when U.S. President Barack Obama held a press conference yesterday to discuss his administration’s counterterrorism policy. The state-run Central China Television (CCTV) picked up and broadcast part of the speech – specifically, the portion in which heckler Medea Benjamin of antiwar NGO Code Pink interrupted Obama four times to demand answers about the victims of drone strikes.

It is not unusual for CCTV to broadcast such incidents. China’s netizens have even dubbed the organization “America’s Conscience-in-Media” for its tireless coverage of disasters and scandals in the U.S, which stand in sharp contrast to its relatively rosy domestic coverage. As one user of Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform popular in China, wrote, “Wherever America is embarrassed, CCTV is right there reporting live from the scene.”

Most commentary on the incident centered around what might happen to Ms. Benjamin if she attempted a similar interruption in China’s Great Hall of the People. An overwhelming majority speculated she would either be dead or “disappeared,” while some said she would be sent to a re-education-through-labor camp. A few more optimistic netizens said she would simply not be given the chance to interrupt in the first place.

While many of the commenters commended Ms. Benjamin’s bravery, a few wondered about what would happen later on down the line. “Doesn’t she fear the FBI?” asked one. Another wrote, “After this is over she’s definitely going to be investigated by the CIA.” Many Chinese, used to ubiquitous monitoring by intrusive domestic security organizations, naturally expect that it exists in the U.S. as well. Given recent news, they might not be far off the mark.

Chinese watchers also shared some frustrations with Americans. “[Obama] has said he would close Guantanamo a million times…ai!” complained one Weibo user. Still, Obama’s measured handling of the situation led many to laud his composure and America’s freedoms. “The highlight was ‘thank you,’” remarked one.  “Whether or not you like the U.S.,” argued another, “America’s human rights and democracy are deserving of thought and study by China’s government.”

For some, though, the incident sparked thought about the state of affairs in their own country. “In China,” wrote Weibo user @小平Patrick, “The leaders speak of dreams, but their audience fell asleep long ago.”

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Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.
  • aivbwbjnwjk

    With all due respect, exactly how many Chinese watched Obama’s public address? I can’t help but feel that your article is very egocentric. I also don’t understand why you continue to compare the US with a country that is repeatedly accused of being more intolerant of free speech. Is the intention of this article a feel-good piece?

  • dd

    Don’t forget about the latest case that US government is spying on the Republican Party and Tea Party members – those people who oppose US government. Probably Ms. Benjamin would be under surveillance after this incident.

  • ruben

    Media from the US do the same thing with China… at least there is a stronger voice of critical awareness in China