BANGKOK, Thailand — With all eyes on Beijing, President Bush today bluntly told China that America is strongly opposed to the way the communist government represses its people, a rebuke delivered from the heart of Asia on the cusp of the Olympic Games.
In perhaps his last major address in Asia, Bush said that America speaks out for a free press, free assembly and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because it's the only path the potent U.S. rival can take to reach its full potential.
"America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists," Bush said.
"We press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs."
Along with his chiding, Bush offered praise for China's market reforms and hope that it will embrace freedom, reflecting the delicate balance that the president seeks to strike with the potent U.S. rival.
"Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions. Yet change will arrive," he said.
Heading eagerly today to the Beijing Olympics as a sports fan, Bush faced pressures all around: a desire not to embarrass China in its moment of glory, a call for strong words by those dismayed by China's repression, and a determination to remind the world that he has been pushing China to allow greater freedom during his presidency.
Bush says he built a relationship with China's leaders that has built up honesty and candor and allowed him to have more influence. He cited examples of significant alliance over Taiwan, North Korea's nuclear program and shared economic concerns. He has also been adamant that the Olympics is not a time to pursue the U.S. political agenda.