Bush beginning China trip urging Jiang to respect religious freedom, open talks with Vatican
BEIJING (AP) — On the final leg of his Asian trip, President Bush said Thursday that China is lending “steady and strong support” to the U.S.-led war on terrorism as it worked toward striking a deal with the United States on controlling the flow of nuclear technology.
High on Bush’s agenda with Chinese President Jiang Zemin is preventing the sale of missile and nuclear technology to nations such as Iraq and Pakistan. The two leaders hoped to complete an agreement during their meetings in Beijing, a senior White House official said Thursday on condition of anonymity.
Under the potential deal, China would meet U.S. demands to publish a list of items prohibited from export and enforce the ban if the administration agreed to lift sanctions barring U.S. companies from launching satellites on Chinese rockets.
The meetings between Bush and Jiang were unlikely to be contentious, in part because of their new alliance against terrorism. China has provided the United States intelligence and other help that has gone a long way toward muting differences, and Bush also was extending an invitation for Jiang to visit Washington next fall.
But there are also sticking points. Bush wants to encourage Jiang to respect religious freedoms and consider the Vatican’s plea to free Catholic bishops. He said he hoped that Jiang “would understand the important role of religion in an individual’s life.”
In addition to human rights, Bush and Jiang are at odds over U.S. missile defense plans, the fate of Taiwan, trade and Bush’s claim that North Korea, Iran and Iraq form “an axis of evil.”
Before leaving South Korea, Bush told troops at Osan Air Base that despite their regional differences, the three Asian leaders he has met on his six-day tour are united in backing his coalition against the al-Qaida network and other terrorist groups.
“All three governments are lending their support in our war against terror,” Bush said. Each stop of his journey, Bush said, gave him a chance “to look the leaders in the eye, to thank them on behalf of a grateful nation, for their steady and strong support as this nation leads a coalition to defend freedom.”
China agreed in November 2000 to stop the export of sensitive nuclear equipment and know-how to countries like Pakistan and Iran. But U.S. officials say Beijing has not begun formulating export control rules and a list of sensitive technologies, nor has it cracked down on export deals struck before the November agreement.
In turn, the United States has not allowed another important aspect of the 2000 agreement, Chinese commercial launching of U.S. satellites.
Bush’s visit comes on the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking trip by President Nixon — a milestone that ended a two-decade estrangement. While Nixon opened the door to China, Bush hopes to use the war on terrorism to develop a mature relationship in which differences can be resolved amicably.
Only a few months ago, administration officials feared relations with the world’s most populous country were headed in the other direction. They cited China’s emergence as a power rivaling the U.S. in Asia, the diplomatic confrontation in April over a downed U.S. spy plane and Beijing’s determination to unify Taiwan.
China also opposes Bush’s plan to build an anti-missile shield. The project could neutralize Beijing’s modest nuclear force.
Among the other issues on the US-Chinese agenda:
— Chinese worries that Bush will sell Taiwan advanced arms.
— The upcoming end of Jiang’s term. Bush expects to meet briefly Friday with the front-runner to replace Jiang, 59-year-old Hu Jintao.
The United States benefits from China’s intelligence information and acceptance of rapidly expanded U.S. action in Asia. And China is using the war to justify harsh treatment of separatist Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan.
Beijing links the group to Osama bin Laden.
At a news conference Wednesday, Bush said, “I can tell you that in my last visit with President Jiang I shared with him my faith. I talked to him on very personal terms about my Christian beliefs.”
Human rights and religious freedom will be the focus of Bush’s address Friday at a Chinese university, expected to be broadcast nationally.
Bush said he urged Jiang in October to honor the request of the Vatican “to be able to at least have dialogue about bishops that are interned there.” The president said he would repeat the request Wednesday.
China has detained dozens of bishops and priests loyal to Pope John Paul II and is closely watching many more as part of its efforts to weaken the underground Roman Catholic Church, according to the Vatican.
China has a state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association that does not recognize papal authority. Millions of Chinese Catholics faithful to the Vatican worship in underground churches, where they risk arrest. Church leaders have sometimes been imprisoned for years.
The Catholic dispute is not the only difference over religion. China recently expelled more than 30 Americans who had been detained during a protest by foreign members of the Falun Gong meditation group.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States had lodged a diplomatic protest Wednesday with China based on the absence of timely consular access for the Americans as well as allegations of mistreatment.
Bush also said he will discuss the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader.