BANGKOK: US President George W. Bush raised “deep concerns” about China’s detention of dissidents and respect for human rights Thursday, as he prepared to head to Beijing for the Olympic Games.
Speaking in Bangkok, Bush insisted that his criticism was not intended to “antagonise” China on the eve of the Games, and expressed optimism about the future of the world’s most populous nation.
But he repeatedly highlighted Washington’s “deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights” in China.
“The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” Bush said.
“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists,” he said.
“We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labour rights – not to antagonise China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”
“We press for openness and justice, not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs,” he said.
Critics had called on Bush to boycott the Olympics opening ceremony because of China’s record on human rights, which has been in the international spotlight in the run-up to the August 8-24 Games.
China has meanwhile insisted that the world sporting showpiece should not be politicised, something Bush has pledged not to do.
The United States has already protested China’s treatment of international activists who are pressing Beijing to exert its influence over Sudan to end the conflict in Darfur.
US Winter Olympic speed-skating champion Joey Cheek, a prominent member of the Team Darfur activist group, saw his Chinese visa allowing him to attend the Games cancelled.
“We were disturbed to learn that the Chinese had refused his visa,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
But Bush has defended his decision to attend the Games, saying during a stop in Seoul on Wednesday that he would cheer US athletes while paying his respects to China.
In his speech, which was released by the White House one day earlier, Bush also praised China’s economic growth, saying the country presented an enormous market for the world’s exports.
“China and the United States share important economic interests,” Bush said.
The president said China’s economic growth would also fuel change in the country.
“Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas, especially on an unrestricted Internet,” he said.
“Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and traditions. Yet change will arrive,” Bush said.
“And it will be clear for all to see that those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China. They are the people who will make China a great nation in the 21st century.”
Bush noted that the United States and China were cooperating on other important issues, including the denuclearisation of North Korea.
As Beijing prepares to showcase its rising global influence with the Olympics, Bush said Washington was also pressing China to assume greater responsibility in world affairs.
“We are making clear to China that being a global economic leader carries with it the duty to act responsibly on matters from energy to the environment to development in places like Africa,” Bush said.
“Ultimately, only China can decide what course it will follow. America and our partners are realistic, and we are prepared for any possibility. I am optimistic about China’s future.”
Channel News Asia