- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

President Bush’s aides warned that his eight-day tour of Asia, which ended yesterday, would not generate breakthrough headlines, but the outcome was even more sobering. In Kyoto, Mr. Bush appealed to the Chinese leadership to open up to democracy. In Beijing, however, the government was even more restrictive and less deferential to U.S. concerns than at past U.S.-China summits, less inclined to accommodate even superficial U.S. concerns. The United States may have lost some of its leverage.

When Mr. Bush visited China in February 2002, Beijing allowed a 37-minute news conference with the president, Jiang Zemin, and live broadcasts of Mr. Bush’s speech to university students. During the president’s recent appearance with President Hu Jintao, reporters were not allowed to ask questions. Mr. Bush’s statements were not covered at the recent trip as fully as at the 2002 summit. The state-run media only aired Mr. Bush’s own words when he joked with Chinese Olympic bicyclists, asking them to “take it easy” on him. State TV did not cover his visit to a Christian church on Sunday, where he pressed China to allow greater religious freedoms.

On past visits by U.S. presidents, Beijing released several political prisoners that Washington expressed concern over. Washington had delivered to Beijing a list of political dissidents that it hoped to see freed when Mr. Hu visited New York two months ago, but apparently none of those on the list were freed.

On the trade front, Mr. Bush made only modest progress. China said it would purchase 70 Boeing 737 airliners and Beijing pledged to take specific measures to crack down on rampant intellectual copyright infringement in China. Mr. Hu said that China would “unswervingly press ahead” with steps to bring the Chinese currency closer to its market value, but did not outline a plan. China’s overvalued currency makes its exports cheaper for U.S. consumers and U.S. goods less affordable for the Chinese.

The U.S.-China relationship appears to be evolving — not to America’s advantage. Washington should talk to Asian and other allies to see where it can push back on Beijing. The Bush administration is correct in not pushing for swift breakthroughs with China, but it should expect a gesture or two on issues of concern. Perhaps, those will be forthcoming when Mr. Hu visits Washington early next year. But we won’t bet on it.

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