- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

BEIJING President Bush today extolled the virtues of American freedom and told hundreds of Chinese students, "My prayer is that all persecution will end so that all in China are free to gather and worship as they wish."
In a speech to about 600 Chinese graduate students at Tsinghua University in Beijing, the president said China's evolution to a freer, more open society depends on its commitment to freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
"Tens of millions of Chinese today are relearning Buddhist, Taoist and local religious traditions, or practicing Christianity, Islam and other faiths. Regardless of where or how these believers worship, they're no threat to public order; in fact, they make good citizens.
"For centuries, this country had a tradition of religious tolerance. My prayer is that all persecution will end, so that all in China are free to gather and worship as they wish," Mr. Bush said.
The president, who in a November meeting in Shanghai told Chinese President Jiang Zemin how "faith has shaped my own life," told the students that belief in God is a cornerstone of democracy in America and around the world.
"Faith points to a moral law beyond man's law and calls us to duties higher than material gain. Freedom of religion is not something to be feared, 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," he said.
He drew a clear distinction between himself and the Chinese president.
"America is a nation guided by faith. Someone once called us 'a nation with the soul of a church.' Ninety-five percent of Americans say they believe in God, and I'm one of them."
The president's speech came a day after his meeting with Mr. Jiang in which the communist made a frank admission.
"I don't have religious faith," Mr. Jiang said.
But he insisted his nation allows full religious freedom and he has not infringed upon their liberties.
"This does not prevent me from having an interest in religion. I've read the Bible, I've also read the Koran, as well as the Scriptures of Buddhism," the Chinese leader said.
He sought to dismiss reports of intolerance including the recent arrest of 50 Catholic bishops as a purely judicial matter.
"Whatever religion people believe in, they have to abide by the law. So some of the lawbreakers have been detained because of their violation of law, not because of their religious belief," he said.
"Although I am president of this country, I have no right interfering in the judicial affairs, because of judicial independence."
But Mr. Bush urged Mr. Jiang during the meeting to talk with the Vatican and the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, as he appealed to Beijing to take strides toward easing religious controls, according to White House officials.
"All the world's people, including the people of China, should be free to choose how they live, how they worship and how they work," the president said at yesterday's news conference.
While Mr. Jiang said the Chinese are free to practice any religion, the government bans religious activity outside state-backed groups. Still, millions of believers worship in underground churches, unsanctioned Islamic prayer groups and Tibetan Buddhist temples loyal to the Dalai Lama.
During their news conference, Mr. Jiang also said he hopes North Korea will resume talks with its southern neighbor a staunch ally of the United States.
The communist leader went further on his commitment to help the United States resolve differences on the Korean Peninsula, split in half since the Korean War ended in 1953.
Mr. Bush, who spoke to U.S. troops stationed in Korea before arriving in Beijing, advocates dialogue that results in reunification of the two nations.
"I want to make clear that we have all along pursued such a position," Mr. Jiang said. "That is, we want the Korean Peninsula to have peace and stability."
While stopping short of committing to urge North Korea to reopen talks with South Korea, which dissolved last spring as tensions returned, Mr. Jiang went further than before by saying the matter should be "resolved through dialogue" between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea, also called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
"And we also sincerely hope that the contacts between the United States and DPRK will be resumed," he said.
In yesterday's short, tightly controlled question-and-answer period with the press, Mr. Bush asked for Mr. Jiang's help with North Korea, a longtime Chinese ally.
"He reminded me that he had a conversation with Kim Jong-il last fall, urging Kim Jong-il to take up Kim Dae-jung's offer for discussion. … And I asked his help in conveying that message to Kim Jong-il if he so chooses."
The two leaders also discussed Taiwan, which Beijing views as a renegade province. While both avoided inflammatory talk on the island, each held fast to longtime positions over Taiwan.
"In my meeting with President Bush, I have elaborated the Chinese government's basic position of peaceful reunification and one country-two systems for the solution of the Taiwan question," Mr. Jiang said.
Mr. Bush said the U.S. position "has not changed over the years. We believe in the peaceful settlement of this issue. We will urge that there be no provocation."
Mr. Bush then reiterated his support for the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the United States is committed to providing the island with the means to defend itself.
The president's tone contrasted sharply with his actions last year, when Mr. Bush granted the largest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan in a decade.
Mr. Jiang had an indirectly barbed message for Mr. Bush as he discussed China's future.
"Even if China becomes more developed in the future, it will not go for bullying or threatening other countries," he said.
Mr. Bush referred to the comment in today's speech to the university students, in which he described China's negative image of the United States in similar terms.
"My friend, the ambassador to China, tells me that some Chinese textbooks talk of Americans 'bullying the weak and repressing the poor.' Another Chinese textbook, published just last year, teaches that special agents of the FBI are used to 'repress the working people,'" Mr. Bush said.
"Neither of these is true, and while the books may be leftovers from a previous era, they are misleading and harmful. In fact, Americans feel a special responsibility for the poor and the weak," he said.
Speaking to Chinese students on his final leg of a weeklong Asia trip, Mr. Bush said, "Life in America shows that liberty, paired with law, is not to be feared. In a free society, diversity is not disorder. Debate is not strife. And dissent is not revolution. A free society trusts its citizens to seek greatness in themselves and their country," the president said.
In a lively exchange with students, Mr. Bush faced tough questions.
One asked why Mr. Bush says "peaceful settlement" of the Taiwan issue, not "peaceful reunification." Another followed up by asking the president to answer the first question.
To the second questioner, the president repeated his earlier answer about a "peaceful dialogue" and then said, "Next question."
The president, who first visited China in 1975, told another student questioner that he sees dramatic change.
"In 1975, everybody wore the same clothes. Now, people pick their own clothes," he said, drawing laughter.
"The difference shows how a free society has effected change; by allowing more freedom, the Chinese desire drives production of apparel, rather than static production offering few choices," Mr. Bush said.
Later today, Mr. Bush meets with Mr. Jiang at a government compound near the Forbidden City. Mr. Bush planned a short stop to tour the Great Wall before departing for Washington this evening.

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