Hu's Olympic sport of choice: table tennis

In a light-hearted finale to a meeting with foreign journalists, China's president said that if he could compete in an Olympics, he would opt for table tennis. Meanwhile, China was praised for easing its web censorship.


Chinese President Hu Jintao said Friday that if he were to compete in an Olympic discipline, he would go for table tennis, although he did not think there was a spot for him on the national team.

In a light-hearted finale to a meeting with foreign correspondents, which covered subjects Hu also revealed an interest in swimming, a sport previously favoured by leaders such as Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist China.

"I have special interest for table tennis and swimming," Hu said in response to a question about what sports he would follow with particular interest during the Beijing Games, which begin next week.

"If I were to choose what kind of event I would like to take part in, I would choose table tennis," he said.

"But I would like to let you know that since the line-up of the Chinese table tennis team is already finalised and made public, it seems my wish can hardly be granted."

Hu has previously demonstrated his enthusiasm for table tennis, a sport in which China has traditionally excelled.

During a visit to Japan in May, he took off his jacket and glasses and showed his skill in a brief round of ping-pong with Ai Fukuhara, a Japanese table tennis star who is popular in China.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International on Friday welcomed China's partial lifting of its Internet censorship system in the run-up to the Olympics, but urged the authorities to go further and ease all restrictions.

China rolled back a few high-profile planks of its web censorship in an apparent effort to defuse an embarrassing dispute over media freedom ahead of the August 8-24 Games.

Journalists at the media centre in Beijing found that a wide array of Internet sites were inaccessible, including Western news organisations and human rights groups like the London-based Amnesty.

But after talks between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Beijing authorities on Thursday, several sites were unblocked.

"We welcome the news today that the authorities have lifted blocks on our website in the Olympics media venues and possibly elsewhere in Beijing," said Roseanne Rife, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific programme deputy director.

"However, arbitrary blocking and unblocking of certain sites does not fulfil the duty to comply with international standards of freedom of information and expression."

"Like the rest of the world, Chinese citizens have a right to access information and to express themselves on-line on all areas of legitimate public inquiry, including human rights.

"We continue to urge the authorities to ensure unfettered access to the Internet in line with official Olympic promises of 'complete media freedom' and international human rights standards."

Amnesty said www.thechinadebate.org -- a website it set up to encourage discussion about China's human rights record -- remained blocked.

The organisation said strong public concern appeared to have played a part in China's decision to unblock some websites.

"Where silent diplomacy on human rights fails, strong public pressure can clearly have an effect," said Rife.

"We continue to urge the IOC and world leaders planning to attend the Games to speak out for human rights and on behalf of Chinese human rights activists who have effectively been silenced."


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