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U.S. in 'Firm Opposition' to Chinese Human Rights Policies, Bush Says

President Bush praised the spread of freedom in Asia while training a harsh spotlight Thursday on the region's democratic laggards, sharply criticizing oppression and human rights abuses in China, Myanmar and North Korea. Video by AP

"We'll see," Bush told reporters. "It's his choice to make as to whether or not he comes off the list."

After a quick trip to rally with troops at the U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan, Bush flew to Thailand, where he held talks Wednesday evening with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Bush is also planning to highlight the cause of Burmese freedom on this trip; he meets with Burmese dissidents on Thursday.

Laura Bush toured the Mae La refugee camp Thursday morning on the Thai-Burmese border, where she called on Burmese strongman Tan Shwe to begin "dialogues" with opposition figures.

Even some of President Bush's critics regard U.S. policies on Asia as a relative bright spot in his foreign policy legacy: Bush and his aides have spent much time cultivating better relationships with Japan and India while engaging China on trade, currency exchange rates and security concerns such as North Korea. Polls suggest that the U.S. standing in Asia is higher than in the rest of the world.

"The administration has improved relations with China and strengthened the alliance with Japan at the same time, which is kind of gravity-defying," said Michael Green, a former Bush aide who follows Asian affairs for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

A considerable part of the speech was devoted to China, which Bush said he has found fascinating since first visiting his father there in 1975, when George H.W. Bush was serving as the top U.S. diplomat in Beijing.

"We are making it clear to China that being a global economic leader carries with it the duty to act responsibly on matters from energy to the environment to development in Africa," Bush said.

Bush also took credit for a calming of tensions in the Taiwan Strait, after pressing both Beijing and Taipei not to disturb the status quo -- meaning no Chinese military attack and no declaration of independence by Taiwan. Bush's policy has disturbed many of Taiwan's U.S. allies, who have complained that a de facto U.S. arms freeze is hindering Taiwan's efforts to cope with a resurgent Chinese military.

Bush said a "constructive relationship" on such issues has placed "America in a better position to be honest and direct on other issues," including human rights and religious freedom. "Ultimately, only China can decide what course it will follow," he said. "It will be clear for all to see that those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their god are no threat to the future of China."

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