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Bush Urges Political, Religious Freedoms for China


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

President Bush is wrapping up his tour of Asia with a stop in Mongolia. Earlier today he was in Beijing holding talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Mr. Bush came with the goal of pushing China's government to grant more freedoms to its citizens, including the right to worship without fear of punishment. NPR's David Greene has been on the road with the president and sent us this report.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

What better way for President Bush to show he's committed to religious freedom in China than to go to church. That's how he began his day, worshiping at one of only five government-sanctioned Protestant churches in a city of 14 million people. After the service, Mr. Bush told reporters...

President GEORGE W. BUSH: It wasn't all that long ago that people were not allowed to worship openly in this society. My hope is that the government of China will not fear the Christians who gather to worship openly. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths.

GREENE: After making his point, the president headed for the Great Hall of the People, facing Beijing's famed Tiananmen Square, to meet personally with President Hu. The Chinese leader briefly mentioned that he's committed to, quote, "continuously raising the level of human rights enjoyed by the Chinese people." But he offered no specifics. Standing beside him, Mr. Bush seemed underwhelmed by what Hu had to say.

Pres. BUSH: It is important that social, political and religious freedoms grow in China...

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Pres. BUSH: ...and we encourage China to continue making the historic transition to greater freedom.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: The president's subdued tone led some in the room to believe that his meeting with Hu hadn't gone so well. Indeed, White House officials acknowledged they got no details from the Chinese about how they plan to expand the rights of their citizens. The White House also said China never even touched a list of human rights concerns that the US government raised with Chinese officials in September.

In the afternoon in Beijing, Mr. Bush got his energy cranking with a mountain bike outside the city. When he returned and came before reporters again, he had a fresh message; that it is alone a big deal that President Hu decided to make public mention of human rights.

Pres. BUSH: President Hu is a thoughtful fellow. He listened to what I had to say. And I thought it was very interesting in his comments that he talked about human rights. Those who've watched China closely would say that maybe a decade ago a leader wouldn't have uttered those comments.

GREENE: And so Mr. Bush was proclaiming progress.

As for his seeming lack of enthusiasm back at the Great Hall, one reporter asked Mr. Bush if something in the meeting had bothered him. His answer?

Pres. BUSH: Have you ever heard of jet lag?

Unidentified Man #2: Yes, sir.

Pres. BUSH: Well, good. That answers your question.

GREENE: The president will be back on Washington time tomorrow. David Greene, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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