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In China speech on eve of Olympics, Bush declares opposition to country’s repression

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush declared the United States’ “firm opposition” to China’s repression of religious liberty and other human rights on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Speaking Aug. 7, Bush expressed sentiments he said he had expressed “candidly and consistently” to China’s leaders.

“The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” Bush said in Bangkok, Thailand. “So America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists.

“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. We press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.”

China’s communist regime responded by denying there is a lack of religious and other human rights in the world’s most populous country. It also took issue with what it described as Bush’s interference in China’s affairs.

“We firmly oppose any words or acts that interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, using human rights and religion and other issues,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a written statement translated by the Associated Press.

“The Chinese government puts people first and is dedicated to maintaining and promoting its citizens’ basic rights and freedom. Chinese citizens have freedom of religion. These are indisputable facts.”

The U.S. government and human rights advocacy organizations say, however, it is indisputable that religious liberty and other human rights are consistently abused by China’s regime. The U.S. State Department reported this year that China is an “authoritarian state” with a “poor” human rights record. It also has designated the communist regime as one of eight “countries of particular concern,” a category reserved for the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom.

Beijing has conducted a crackdown on human rights -– members of Congress, as well as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and advocacy organizations, have charged — in the weeks and months leading to the Olympics, which open officially Aug. 8. The crackdown has included the violent suppression of March’s peaceful protests led by Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. It also has been marked by the detention of nearly 700 Protestant pastors in the last year, according to USCIRF.

China’s intolerance for religion and other forms of free expression has been demonstrated as the Olympics near.

Three American, pro-life Christians were arrested Aug. 6 after unfurling in Tiananmen Square a banner that said “Jesus Christ Is King” in English and Mandarin. They were arrested again Aug. 7 while praying at the same site.

Also on Aug. 6, Chinese authorities arrested and deported two American and two British citizens who displayed banners calling for freedom for Tibet in a protest outside the Olympic stadium.

USCIRF, as well as some federal legislators and human rights organizations, urged Bush not to attend this year’s Olympics because of China’s human rights abuses. If he ignored their request, USCIRF called for Bush to take several steps to encourage religious freedom during his trip, including giving a speech on the issue to be broadcast live in China and meeting with leaders of a church that is not registered with the government.

It does not appear those specific actions will be taken by the president, although he is expected to worship at a registered church Aug. 10 and to make a statement afterward.

Bush met with five Chinese religious and human rights advocates July 29 at the White House. A day later, the House of Representatives voted 419-1 for a resolution calling for China to halt its human rights abuses immediately so the Olympics will occur “in an atmosphere that honors the Olympic traditions of freedom and openness.” China’s Foreign Ministry criticized both actions.
Compiled by Baptist Press bureau chief Tom Strode.

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