Bush: China must end detentions, ensure freedoms
"America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists," Bush is to say in the marquee speech of his three-nation Asia trip. "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."
Bush is to deliver the address in a Bangkok, Thailand, convention center on Thursday morning to a crowd of foreign diplomats, Thai government leaders and business officials, before flying to China later that day. The White House released the text of the president's speech nearly 18 hours in advance, as Bush flew to Thailand from South Korea.
The speech was planned as a summary of Bush's views of U.S. strategic interests in Asia and his policies toward the crucial region during his presidency. But his remarks on China, among his most directly critical ever in public, stand out.
He says he has built a relationship with China's leaders over the years — through opposing independence for Taiwan and cooperating on economic matters, for example — that has allowed him to be "honest and direct" on the sensitive matter of China's internal policies.
"I have spoken clearly, candidly and consistently with China's leaders about our deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights," Bush says in the prepared text.
Earlier Wednesday, during a news conference in Seoul with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Bush said China's pre-Olympics crackdown on dissent has been "a mistake."
The communist country considers the Olympics a source of huge national pride and is pulling out all stops to ensure no embarrassments. It has rounded up dissidents, detaining some. Journalists covering the games have objected to restrictions on Internet sites, worried about possible censorship.
"You ought to welcome people being able to express their minds," Bush said Wednesday.
In Thursday's speech, the president is softening his message somewhat by saying any changes in China would have to come "on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and traditions."
"Ultimately only China can decide what course it will follow," he says.
Still, his strong message is likely to anger the leadership in Beijing.
Bush already drew the ire of Chinese officials by meeting last week at the White House with prominent Chinese exiles and dissidents.
Bush has made clear that he is going to Beijing mostly as an Olympics fan, but that he would talk frankly with Chinese President Hu Jintao during their private meetings. It was also known that he would speak publicly about religious freedom after attending a Beijing church service.
But his speech takes his usually gentle criticism of China up a notch.
In addition, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the U.S. would protest China's decision to deny a visa for former Olympic speed skater Joey Cheek, who was planning to travel to Beijing to urge that the Chinese government help make peace in the war-torn Darfur section of Sudan.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in fighting in the western Sudanese region since ethnic African tribesmen took up arms in 2003. China is considered a major player in the situation, as it controls almost of all of Sudan's oil potential and also supplies weapons to its government.
"We are taking the matter very seriously," Perino said Wednesday. "We would hope that they would change their minds."
Last updated: 10:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012