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Bush seizes on summit venue to nudge China

He urges openness in a speech in Sydney and holds talks with Hu.

September 07, 2007|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

SYDNEY — President Bush warned China today that the world would be watching as Beijing holds next summer's Olympics and urged Chinese leaders to ease restrictions on religious believers and political dissidents.

Bush told Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday that he would accept China's invitation to attend the Olympics, but that he would do so to honor sportsmanship, not as a political statement.

To underscore the point, White House aides said, Bush also informed the Chinese leader that he planned to attend an awards ceremony in Washington for the Dalai Lama, whose status as leader of Tibetan Buddhism is not recognized by China.

"China will be the host of the Olympic Games; I'm looking forward to going. And it's going to be a great moment of pride for the Chinese people," Bush said. "It will also be a moment where China's leaders can use this opportunity to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance."

Bush's call came during a speech to Asian business leaders gathered in Sydney for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. He praised Asian nations for advancing democracy in their region and around the world.

"The lesson of freedom's advance in the Asia-Pacific region is this: The desire for liberty is universal, written by our creator into the hearts of every man, woman and child," Bush said. "Whenever they're given a chance, whenever they're given an opportunity, the people of every culture and every religion choose freedom over oppression."

He said a number of APEC nations needed to do more to promote democracy, including Russia and Thailand.

"We'll continue to work with nations like Russia to advance our shared interests while encouraging Russia's leaders to respect the checks and balances that are essential to democracy," Bush said. "And finally, we look forward to free and fair elections in Thailand."

Bush and Hu had a 90-minute meeting, which was longer than scheduled and which both sides described as cordial.

Bush's message to China on a range of issues was calculated to praise Beijing's efforts to open its markets and lift political restrictions while underscoring areas in which Washington believes it should do more.

"We'll [continue] to work with China, but as we do so, we'll never shy away from expressing our deepest-held values that each person has human dignity, and that we believe strongly in liberty," Bush said.

White House officials said that Hu was eager to discuss the safety of Chinese exports and pledged that his government was working hard to improve regulatory controls.

The two leaders also agreed in principle to establish a hotline between their militaries to defuse tensions and avoid strategic errors. And Hu pledged to work toward a more market-driven policy on the value of China's currency, the yuan.

Some commentators have dubbed the APEC forum a "China summit" because of the perception that Beijing has grown more assertive in the region, especially with the United States preoccupied with the conflict in Iraq. But White House officials, including the president, have contended that the U.S. remains deeply engaged in the region.

Bush expressed that commitment in historical terms, using his speech -- his central message for the summit -- to tie the history of Asia to U.S. policies on Iraq and the wider Middle East.

"East Asia used to be a region of turmoil and danger, and today it's a region of peace and hope and opportunity," he said. "With resolve and strength of conviction, the same thing will happen in the Middle East.

"And when they look back at this period . . . they'll say: Job well done."

APEC leaders plan to take up the subject of global warming during this year's summit, which formally kicks off Saturday, and both Bush and Hu -- whose nations are the world's two largest polluters -- have embraced the move.

Bush is holding an international conference of the world's largest economies this month in Washington, and China is expected to attend.

"Here's my strategy: In order for there to be effective climate change policy, India and China need to be a part of the process. In order to get them in the process they have to be included in setting international goals. And the process is beginning here at APEC," Bush said.

Bush's speech was marred by several misstatements, including praising Australian Prime Minister John Howard for being host to the "OPEC summit."

"He invited me to the OPEC summit next year," Bush said jokingly as he corrected himself.

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