- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

KYOTO, Japan — President Bush yesterday pressed China to grant its 1.3 billion people more freedom, telling leaders of the communist nation that “once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed.”

In his first speech during an eight-day Asia tour that will take him to Beijing and the emerging democracy of Mongolia, the president also took a swipe at China’s policy on Taiwan.

“The people of Taiwan for years lived under a restrictive political state that gradually opened up the economy,” Mr. Bush said in prepared remarks released by the White House because his speech was scheduled to begin at 1:25 a.m. EST today.

“Modern Taiwan is free and democratic and prosperous,” he said. “By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society.”

The president asserted that “our one-China policy remains unchanged,” and said “there should be no unilateral attempts to change the status quo by either side.”

In May, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao urged passage of legislation mandating eventual reunification with Taiwan, which split from China at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. The legislation stalled, but U.S. officials were alarmed when a Chinese general said in July that Beijing might respond with nuclear weapons if the United States attacked China in a conflict over Taiwan.

China responded to Mr. Bush’s comments by saying it would not tolerate any interference over Taiwan.

“Taiwan is a part of China, an inseparable part of China, and China does not brook any interference in its internal affairs,” Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told Agence France-Presse on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in South Korea.

In his speech, Mr. Bush lauded Japan and South Korea, his next stop, as prime examples of the power of freedom. Once the nations embraced freedom, he said, their economies flourished.

The president also criticized repressive nations, singling out Burma, where people “live in the darkness of tyranny.”

China, Mr. Bush said, falls somewhere in between, having taken “the first steps toward freedom … but they have not yet completed the journey.”

“I have pointed out that the people of China want more freedom to express themselves, to worship without state control and to print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear of punishment. The efforts of China’s people to improve their society should be welcomed as part of China’s development,” he said.

In a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the president said he plans to “repeat it in China as well.”

Mr. Koizumi, whom Mr. Bush called his “buddy,” joined the president for a morning tour of Kinkakuji, the revered Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. Mr. Koizumi showed Mr. Bush, a devout Christian, how to bow in prayer before an idol of the Buddha, said Raitei Arima, the temple’s head priest.

Making his third trip to Asia, Mr. Bush sought to check China’s rising influence in the world while urging what he calls a “strategic partner” to continue on the road toward democracy.

The president is likely to further rankle China with his trip later this week to a Beijing church, where he plans to drive home his point about religious freedom.

In Washington, meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid criticized the administration’s China strategy.

“China’s nondemocratic government has taken actions and pursued policies that understandably stoke concerns and fears in America,” the Nevada Democrat said in a letter urging progress in the areas of security, trade and human rights.

Mr. Bush will use his stop in South Korea to attend the APEC forum, where he plans to press Pacific Rim leaders for progress on a global trade pact that would slash subsidies and reduce tariffs. Yesterday, he urged China, expected to run up a $200 billion trade surplus with the United States this year, to move toward a more market-based currency and to crack down on piracy of American movies, software and other copyright material.

“China needs to provide a level playing field for American businesses seeking access to China’s market,” Mr. Bush said.

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