The US opposes China’s detention of dissidents and other activists, US President George W. Bush will say today in a pointed message on human rights on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.
According to an advance copy of the speech he will give in Thailand before going to China for the opening ceremony of the Games, Bush insisted that the criticisms were not intended to “antagonize” the Beijing leadership.
But in a message that also expressed optimism about the future of the world’s most populous nation, Bush said he had repeatedly underlined the US’ “deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights” in China.
“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,” Bush said in the prepared remarks.
“We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly and labor rights not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential,” he said.
In South Korea yesterday, Bush defended his decision to attend the Games — he said he would cheer on US athletes as well as pay his respects to China — and in his speech today will say he is “optimistic” about the future.
“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 in the advance remarks.
“Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and traditions. Yet change will arrive,” Bush said.
Bush offered North Korea hope yesterday that it could share in South Korea’s economic prosperity while warning that it first must take concrete steps to live up to a promise to end its nuclear weapons program.
Bush made clear Pyongyang must continue to live up to the step-by-step denuclearization process of a framework agreement reached in six-party talks involving both Koreas, the US, Japan, China and Russia.
But while he spoke of a future in which North Korea is no longer part of the “axis of evil” he first outlined in 2002, Bush said much work remains, including improvement of Pyongyang’s human rights record.
Addressing a news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Bush also advised China that its pre-Olympics crackdown on dissent was “a mistake.”
Journalists covering the games have objected to restrictions on Internet sites, worried about possible censorship.
“You should not fear religious people in your societies,” said Bush, who was to fly later to Thailand before heading to Beijing.
“As a matter of fact, religious people will make your society a better place. You ought to welcome people being able to express their minds. To the extent that people aren’t able to do that, people aren’t able to worship freely is — you know — I think is a mistake.”
North Korea expects Bush to remove it from the US list of terror-sponsoring countries as promised when the North blew up its nuclear reactor cooling tower in June.
But Bush said North Korea must first agree to international terms for verifying its dismantlement efforts.
Nevertheless, “the two presidents made it clear that they are committed to helping North Korea integrate into the international community and thereby partake in the peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” said a joint statement issued by the presidents.
Bush also visited US troops at the Yongsan base in Seoul, lucrative real estate that Washington is handing back to South Korea as part of global base closures and armed forces realignment.
He thanked the troops and their families for the sacrifices they made in the war on terrorism.
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