WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush reached out to a new generation of Chinese Feb. 22, urging students at Beijing’s Tsinghua University — and a national live television audience — to embrace American values of personal liberty, democracy and faith, CNSNews.com reported.
In what may have been the most delicate moment of his brief visit to China, he made a clear and unambiguous appeal for religious freedom in a country campaigners accuse of widespread violations in that area.
“My prayer is that all persecution will end,” Bush said, “so that all in China are free to gather and worship as they wish.”
Sitting alongside Bush as he spoke was Hu Jintao, China’s vice president and the man expected to succeed President Jiang Zemin next year.
“Freedom of religion is not something to be feared,” the president argued. “It’s to be welcomed, because faith gives us a moral core and teaches us to hold ourselves to high standards, to love and to serve others, and to live responsible lives.”
Rather than attack deficiencies in Chinese society, Bush highlighted positive aspects of America’s.
When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, he said, firefighters and police officers had given their lives to save those of others, while volunteers poured into New York to help their stricken compatriots.
“None of this was ordered by the government,” he said. “It happened spontaneously, by the initiative of a free people.”
Although the United States has its share of problems, “there is a reason our nation shines as a beacon of hope, a reason many throughout the world dream of coming to America.”
In a challenge to the Chinese leadership and people, Bush asserted: “Those who fear freedom sometimes argue it could lead to chaos, but it does not, because freedom means more than every man for himself.
“Life in America shows that liberty … is not to be feared.
“In a free society, diversity is not disorder, debate is not strife and dissent is not revolution,” he said.
After his address, Bush took questions from students. Several tackled him on U.S. policy toward Taiwan, pressing him on why he called for a “peaceful resolution” of the dispute rather than “peaceful reunification” between the mainland and Taiwan.
He restated his commitment to the “one China” principle but stressed that the United States has a commitment to help Taiwan defend itself if necessary.
“When my country makes an agreement, we stick with it,” he said, citing the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
One student asked about poverty, delinquency and violence in America, asking what the country was doing to tackle these “human rights” issues.
The question echoed the approach taken by the Chinese government in recent years, when it has responded to annual State Department criticism of its human rights record with a report of its own, suggesting that social problems in the United States amount to human rights violations.
While acknowledging that conditions in the country are not perfect, Bush told the student: “Our government is very generous in the amount of money it spends trying to help people help themselves.”
The question time also had moments of levity. At one point, Bush joked that the interpreter was correcting his English.
The president also raised a laugh when, in answer to a question on whether he would ever encourage his daughters to go to China to study, he replied that his daughters no longer listened to him.
When asked what changes he had observed in Chinese society since he first visited in 1975, the president again sought to appeal to his youthful audience.
In 1975, everyone was wearing the same clothes, Bush said. This time, however, “people pick their own clothes,” he added, complimenting a student’s choice of red sweater.
The address at the prestigious university wrapped up a six-day tour that also took in Japan and South Korea. Bush was later Friday to visit the Great Wall before flying back to Washington.
Goodenough is the Pacific Rim bureau chief with CNSNews.com, on the Internet at www.cnsnews.com. Used by permission.