BEIJING U.S. President George W. Bush wasted no
time on Friday raising the touchy issues of religious freedom
and free speech in China, hours before he was to attend the
opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Despite criticism by China for meddling in its internal
affairs, he used the dedication of a new American embassy in
Beijing to drive home his point that freedom of speech was the
best way to promote prosperity and peace.
"We continue to be candid about our belief that all people
should have the freedom to say what they think and worship as
they choose," he said at the embassy dedication, a 10-acre
"We strongly believe societies which allow the free
expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most
peaceful," Bush said a few hours before a lunch hosted by
Chinese President Hu Jintao for foreign leaders.
Bush has been criticized by human rights activists and some
U.S. lawmakers for going to the opening ceremonies and the
Games, arguing it offered credibility to the Chinese government
despite its record on human and religious rights.
He countered that he was primarily going to the Games to
cheer on the U.S. athletes and that he frequently has candid
conversations with China's leaders about religious freedom and
its human rights record.
"Candour is most effective when nations have built a
relationship of respect and trust," Bush said. "I've worked
hard to build that respect and trust. I appreciate the Chinese
leadership that have worked hard to build that respect and
Chinese dignitaries at the dedication sat expressionless.
He also went to lengths to emphasize their areas of
agreement, such as working to rid North Korea of its nuclear
weapons and Beijing's move toward a more open and free economy.
Bush also noted that the new embassy reflected the "solid
foundation underpinning our relations."
Attending the ceremony was his father George H.W. Bush, who
served not only as president but also as envoy to China, as
well as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who helped
orchestrate a thaw in China-U.S. relations in the 1970s.
Asked what he thought of Bush's comments on human rights at
the embassy dedication, Kissinger told Reuters: "It was
important for him to do this."
Just hours later, Bush was warmly greeted by China's
president at a luncheon held at the Great Hall of the People
for foreign leaders attending the Olympics. The two leaders
will hold formal discussions on Sunday.
Bush, an avid sports enthusiast who once owned part of the
Texas Rangers baseball team, plans to attend several
competitions, including men's and women's basketball games as
well as a baseball practice, according to the White House.
His attendance at the Olympics is the first by a sitting
U.S. president on foreign soil.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang Thursday
defended China's rights record, saying people enjoyed a range
of freedoms, including freedom of religion, but added a warning
"We resolutely oppose any words or actions which interfere
in the internal affairs of another country in the name of
issues such as human rights and religion," he said in a
statement on the ministry's website (www.fmprc.gov.cn).
While Bush has said he had no intention of using the
Olympics as a platform for lecturing China on human rights, he
said he would discuss such matters privately with President Hu.
And to further emphasize his push for religious freedom, on
Sunday Bush will attend a service at one of the government
sanctioned churches in Beijing, the Kuanjie Protestant
Christian Church. Other unregistered churches exist, some of
which face repression.
(For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to
and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)