Mon, Nov 21, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Hu ignores Bush on religious freedom

PRC CHARACTERISTICS Detention of dissidents attracted the US secretary of state's ire, though China seemed more agreeable on financial controversies


Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday rebuffed US President George W. Bush's calls to allow greater religious and political freedom but promised to show more flexibility on Sino-US economic disputes.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Washington was complaining "vociferously" to Beijing after Chinese authorities took forceful steps to keep dissidents and activists out of sight during Bush's visit here.

After a 90-minute meeting at the Great Hall of the People, Bush and his host pledged to keep relations between the US and China on track and talk through what Hu described as "inevitable" tensions.

As their talks got under way, Boeing signed a US$4 billion deal in Beijing to supply 70 737 aircraft to China.

"Win-win cooperation is the mainstream of China-US relations," Hu said, and promised to work to reduce economic tensions on issues such as currency reform and a massive bilateral trade imbalance that favors China.

The two leaders agreed to pursue joint efforts to defuse the North Korean nuclear crisis through six-country talks, and to ramp up cooperation to battle the spread of avian flu amid fears of a global pandemic.

Bush, who began his day on a symbolic note by going to church, said: "It is important that social, political and religious freedoms grow in China. And we encourage China to continue making the historic transition to greater freedom."

Hu said that China was "continuously raising the level of human rights enjoyed by" its people, but that progress must reflect "China's national conditions" and that the country would have "democratic politics with Chinese characteristics."

On the economic front, Hu said Beijing would "unswervingly press ahead" with currency reform and "gradually" cut its massive trade surplus with the US, which was expected to run to about US$200 billion this year.

The US side reported no breakthroughs yesterday, but pointed to less tangible signs of success, with one senior Bush aide insisting that Hu had been more specific in promising to crack down on rampant counterfeiting of US goods.

Tackling another perennial irritant in Sino-US relations, Taiwan, Hu said that Beijing was "committed to peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits" but warned that "we will by no means tolerate so-called Taiwan independence."

The two leaders said they would next meet in the US early next year -- a visit that will replace Hu's planned trip in September, which was indefinitely postponed because of Hurricane Katrina.

But even as Bush underlined the importance of human rights, China detained or put under house arrest at least a dozen dissidents and activists to keep them from being heard.

Authorities on Wednesday started sending officers to stand guard outside the homes of a number of intellectuals and activists while detaining others in out-of-town guesthouses, sources said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan is keeping a close eye on the meeting between Hu and Bush, the foreign ministry said yesterday.

Taipei believes its interests will not be dented during Bush's China visit, an acting foreign ministry spokesman said, adding however: "It's reasonable to be cautious towards the closed-door meeting because we don't know what's going on there."

But "as of now, our observation is that the two sides have not reached an agreement, with Bush voicing his stance on democracy and freedom while Hu renewing `one China,'" Wang said.

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