McCain Urges Bush to Avoid Confrontations on China Trip

Republican presidential candidate John McCain greets supporters at the Country First Concert in Panama City, Fla.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain greets supporters at the Country First Concert in Panama City, Fla. (By Mary Altaffer -- Associated Press)
By David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sen. John McCain urged President Bush yesterday to avoid saying anything "confrontational" to his Chinese hosts when he visits Beijing this week for the opening of the Olympics, lest he damage prospects for cooperation between the United States and China.

In an interview with The Washington Post at his Arlington headquarters, the prospective Republican presidential nominee advocated a cautious course for Bush, despite U.S. unhappiness with the Chinese crackdown on Tibet, complaints of harsh repression of domestic dissidents and strained relations stemming from last week's breakdown of global trade talks in Geneva.

McCain, who harshly condemned Russian behavior in the same interview, said some of China's actions are "also regrettable, but I don't think China is regressing the way that Russia is. We have a greater opportunity to work in a cooperative way with China."

Saying he does not contemplate "a return to the Cold War" or a military confrontation with either country, McCain said he hopes Bush will tell the Chinese leadership that "we understand, as the Dalai Lama does, that Tibet is part of China but we hope Tibetans are not repressed or oppressed." McCain met recently with the Dalai Lama in Colorado.

Bush has been under pressure from some Republicans and many Democrats to make public statements while in China aligning the United States with the cause of human rights in both China and Tibet. He met with five Chinese dissidents in the White House last week, a step that Chinese authorities condemned, but he has resisted urgings that he boycott the opening ceremonies to show displeasure with the controversial actions of the government.

McCain applauded the president's stance. "You don't want to go over there and insult the Chinese," he said. "It would not be good for our relations. I certainly don't think the president would or should go over there and be confrontational. At the same time, I think the president can in a very diplomatic style make it clear what we stand for and believe in."

The senator said the breakdown of trade talks in Geneva last week over the refusal of India and China to lower tariffs that protect domestic farmers poses a greater threat to America's economic future than most voters seem to recognize. An outspoken advocate of free trade, McCain said, "I'm not ready to give up," but he suggested that trade deals may have to be negotiated with individual countries or regions, since global talks are at an impasse.

Earlier in the interview, the Republican standard-bearer used strong language to condemn recent Russian actions at home and abroad, ranging from threats of economic sanctions against former Soviet satellites to the harassment of independent firms.

"I see a steady progression in Russia of more and more repression of rights and the disappearance of semblances of democracy," McCain said. "We have to deal with them, negotiate with them, especially in light of their hoard of petrodollars. But we can't sit by and watch a country murder people in England" -- a reference to the 2006 poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko.

In a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in March, McCain made a similar indictment of Russia and suggested that it be expelled from the Group of Eight summits of major industrial democracies, rather than "tolerate its nuclear blackmail or cyber-attacks." India and Brazil should be invited to replace it at the annual gatherings, he said.

He did not repeat that suggestion yesterday but clearly signaled that a McCain administration would view China and Russia very differently.

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