- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

President Bush yesterday met with Tibet’s Dalai Lama to discuss religious persecution in China, a topic Mr. Bush plans to raise with Chinese officials during a visit to Beijing next week.

The Dalai Lama meeting comes on the heels of Beijing handing jail terms to a family of Bible distributors and the day before a planned Falun Gong demonstration outside the White House demanding more U.S. pressure on China.

“We strongly support religious freedom,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters yesterday. “And when there are countries that are not allowing for religious freedom within their borders, we are going to point that out.”

The president said this week that he will raise religious freedom as an issue when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

“I will continue to remind President Hu about, for example, my personal faith and the belief that people should be allowed to worship freely,” he told a round table of Asian journalists on Tuesday. “And a vibrant, whole society is one that recognizes that certain freedoms are inherent and need to be part of a complete society.”

However, the White House played down the Dalai Lama’s visit yesterday, classifying it as private and releasing no official transcripts, holding no press conference and barring press photographers. The Dalai Lama did not comment, and Mr. Bush made only one passing reference to the meeting, at a later event honoring recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Still, the meeting won applause from activists on religious freedom in China.

“Today’s presidential meeting sends a signal that the U.S. government really cares about not only Tibet, but also religious freedom in all of China,” said professor Larry Liu of American University. “It’s a very strong message.”

Like the Dalai Lama, Mr. Liu is calling on Mr. Bush to press Mr. Hu to end religious persecution when the two leaders meet next week. Mr. Liu is a practitioner of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, whose members have been killed or imprisoned in China.

“We want to send a message to President Bush to raise the issue of persecution against Falun Gong to Mr. Hu Jintao,” Mr. Liu said.

To that end, a group of Falun Gong practitioners planned a press conference near the White House today to demand exit visas for 17 Chinese children whose parents were killed or imprisoned for practicing the meditative religion. They will also call for the release of eight Falun Gong practitioners who were sentenced to particularly long prison terms.

The president sounded hopeful that Mr. Hu would be persuadable.

“He’s made some very positive statements — and interesting statements — about different aspects of freedom,” Mr. Bush told the Asian journalists.

Religious freedom in China has come under increasing assault in recent years.

On Tuesday, Chinese authorities slapped a three-year prison sentence on Cai Zhuohua, a leader of an underground church in Beijing, for distributing Bibles and other Christian materials. His wife, Xiao Yunfei, got two years, and her brother, Xiao Gaowen, was sentenced to 18 months by the Haidian Lower People’s Court in Beijing.

In addition to meeting with the president at the White House, the Dalai Lama met yesterday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will accompany Mr. Bush to Asia.

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