Tuesday, July 19, 2005

President Bush yesterday said the United States has “difficulties” with China over trade, religious freedom and intellectual property rights, but he declined to discuss military tensions.

“It’s a good relationship, but it’s a complex relationship,” Mr. Bush said during an East Room press conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

The president sidestepped a reporter’s question about whether he views China as an “emerging military challenge,” especially in the wake of a Chinese general’s threat last week that his country is prepared to launch nuclear attacks against the United States if it intervenes on behalf of Taiwan.

“The Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds … of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese,” Gen. Zhu Chenghu said.

Chinese officials later said he was expressing his personal opinion, not government policy.

Although Mr. Bush declined to respond to those remarks, Mr. Howard earlier called them “unhelpful” and “irresponsible.” Yesterday, Mr. Howard added that Taiwan is a critical issue in U.S.-China relations.

“The leadership of both countries understands the importance of common sense in relation to Taiwan, a recognition that there are differences of philosophy between the two societies,” he said.

Mr. Bush, while steering clear of the topic of a possible Chinese military threat, bemoaned other tensions between Beijing and Washington.

“We have some difficulties on the trade front with China,” he said. “A second difficulty is on intellectual property rights.

“It’s very important for emerging economies to understand that in order to be a fair trading partner, you’ve got to honor somebody else’s intellectual property.”

Mr. Bush also said the United States and China have “issues when it comes to values.” He gently chastised Beijing for refusing to allow religious freedom.

“People ought to be allowed to worship freely,” he said. “Every time I’ve met with the Chinese leaders, I’ve — in a respectful way — shared with them the importance, I feel, for a healthy society to recognize that people think differently and worship differently and, therefore, ought to be encouraged to do so.”

The leaders also used yesterday’s press conference to lavish praise on each other for standing firm in the war against terrorism.

“I got to tell you, I admire John Howard a lot,” the president said. “He’s a man of conviction. He’s got backbone. He’s not afraid to make the hard decision, he’s not afraid to lead.”

And Mr. Howard noted that, despite significant misgivings in the United States and Australia about Operation Iraqi Freedom, both he and Mr. Bush were re-elected last fall. He said it was because they believed “that individual freedom is still the greatest glue that nations and peoples can have.”

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