China Rebukes President Bush for Meeting With Chinese Dissidents

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 31, 2008; 1:14 PM

BEIJING, July 31 -- China today issued a strong rebuke of President Bush for meeting with five Chinese dissidents in the White House this week, saying he had "rudely interfered" with China's internal affairs and sent a "seriously wrong" message to others who criticize the country.

The comments by Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao were unusually pointed against Bush, who China considers a friend. Bush supported the Chinese by resisting activists' calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony to protest China's human rights record. He also sat for a one-on-one interview with China's state-controlled television without requiring preconditions that would limit editing of his remarks.

CCTV aired a two-minute segment from the Bush interview during the middle of its 11 p.m. English-language news program. The interview was not shown on its main Chinese-language broadcast.

"I respect the Chinese people," Bush said. "I'm coming to China as the president and as a friend."

Bush made no mention in the broadcast of U.S. concerns about human rights in China. He said he was coming to the Olympics because "I know it's best for the U.S.-China relationship that I go."

The July 29 meeting with dissidents, in which the White House said Bush promised to "carry the message of freedom" to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, crossed a line the Chinese would not ignore.

"By arranging such a meeting between its leader and these people and making irresponsible remarks on China's human rights and religious situation, the U.S. side has rudely interfered in China's internal affairs and sent a seriously wrong message to the anti-China hostile forces," Liu said, according to state-controlled New China News Agency.

The issue of human rights is a tense one between the United States and China, but experts did not expect this incident to harm relations between the two countries.

"The Chinese government very much appreciates President Bush's support for the Beijing Olympics, but they cannot abandon the Chinese position on other matters," said Shi Yinhong, a professor at the Center for American Studies at People's University in Beijing. "The matter of dissidents is quite sensitive and the Foreign Ministry always makes strong protestations when dealing with this kind of affair."

Liu had even stronger language for the U.S. House of Representatives, which Wednesday adopted a resolution by 419-to-1 calling on Beijing to stop abusing citizens' rights, to open meaningful negotiations with the Dalai Lama on the future of Tibet and to end its support of governments in Sudan and Burma. It called on Beijing to create "an atmosphere that honours the Olympic traditions of freedom and openness."

Liu lashed out at what he called the "odius conduct" of anti-China lawmakers. "The resolution exposed the malicious intention of a handful of anti-China lawmakers to politicize, interrupt and sabotage the Games," he said.

Bush met with five prominent Chinese dissidents in the White House residence on July 29: Harry Wu, a critic of Chinese prisons; Wei Jinsheng, a democracy activist; Sasha Gong, a writer; Bob Fu of the China Aid Association and Rebiya Kadeer, who advocates for more protection of rights for the Uighurs, an ethnic minority in western China's Xinjiang region.

That same day, Stephen J. Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, met at the White House with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. Bush joined the two and told Yang that hosting the Olympics "presents the Chinese with an opportunity to demonstrate compassion on human rights and freedom," according to a White House statement.

The Chinese on Wednesday issued their own statement about the meeting, saying that Yang told Bush that "China would like to continue to exchange its views with the United States on basis of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other's domestic affairs."

While in Beijing, Bush is expected to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other officials as well as attend several days of Olympic competition.

Researcher Liu Songjie contributed to this report.

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