By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 2, 2008
BEIJING, Aug. 1 -- President Hu Jintao said Friday that Beijing's hosting of the Olympic Games shows the world is confident that China can manage its economic and strategic rise peacefully, in cooperation with other countries.
Hu, who is head of China's Communist Party, made the point in a rare appearance before selected correspondents in Beijing a week before the Games open with a spectacular ceremony to be attended by President Bush and other foreign dignitaries. His observation reflected the party's long-standing hope that staging a celebratory Games will help cast this burgeoning power as an accepted neighbor in Asia and a reliable partner around the world, despite its enduring Leninist political system.
Bush, in an interview published Friday in the party's main propaganda vehicle, the People's Daily newspaper, flattered that hope with a cheerful assessment of U.S.-China relations that steered clear of differences on such sensitive subjects as human rights, political reform and military strategy. Bush stressed how important he considers the U.S.-China relationship and said his contacts with Hu over the years have been marked by "sincerity and honesty."
"I have a positive view of China's rise," Bush was quoted as telling a group of Asian journalists in Washington, including the People's Daily correspondent.
The ping-pong of upbeat interviews gave both leaders the chance to emphasize their belief that the Olympic Games should be a forum for athletic prowess and international harmony rather than a platform for pressing China on human rights, Tibet and Darfur, as foreign and Chinese activist groups have demanded.
"I don't think that politicizing the Olympic Games will do anything good to address any of those issues," Hu said, according to recordings by journalists in attendance. "And I think such an attempt also runs counter to the spirit of the Olympic Games and goes against the shared aspiration of people from around the world."
Bush agreed, saying: "I made a decision not to politicize the Games. This is for athletics."
As Hu's comments demonstrated, however, hosting the Olympic Games has been treated by Chinese leaders from the beginning as an opportunity to celebrate three decades of swift economic growth and showcase the country's progress. In that light, Hu's likely successor as party leader, Xi Jinping of the elite Politburo Standing Committee, has been assigned to make sure that the two-week competition helps enhance China's image at home and abroad.
"In seven days, the Beijing Olympics will open," Hu said. "The people of the world and the people of China are waiting for this moment. The Olympics are being organized by China, with one-fifth of the world's population. This shows the world's trust in China, and it is China's contribution to the world."
Hu underlined the party's determination to modernize the country and restore it to a prominent place in world affairs after years as an ideological outcast. Chinese people in countless interviews have applauded the government's effort to make China into a normal country with friends and admirers around the world.
"The current dream of the Chinese people is to accelerate building a modern country, realize the great renaissance of the Chinese nation and, with the peoples of the world, seek peaceful progress, amicable coexistence and harmonious development," Hu said.
As part of the push to modernize, Hu added, the Communist Party intends to continue the reforms that have liberalized the economy over the past 30 years and opened it to foreign investment. At the same time, he said, "we will continue pursuing comprehensive reforms, including reforms of the political system."
Chinese leaders, while often promising political reforms, have made it clear they have no intention of moving toward Western-style democracy in which the Communist Party would submit to elections, the legislature would have real power and the courts would be independent of party controls. Rather, China will "continue expanding socialist democracy and developing a state of socialist rule of law," the Reuters news service quoted Hu as saying.