By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008
BEIJING, Aug. 8 -- President Bush arrived here Thursday night to a fresh blast from the Chinese authorities over his rebuke of their human rights practices, as he prepared to join other world leaders at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted sharply to Bush's broad critique this week of China's imprisonment of dissidents, suppression of religious liberty and curtailment of free speech. "We firmly oppose any words or acts that interfere in other countries' internal affairs, using human rights and religion and other issues," spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.
Bush has made clear that he disapproves of the lack of liberty in China, but he made his strongest remarks in Bangkok earlier Thursday, before arriving on Chinese soil. Bush has indicated he does not desire to embarrass the Chinese authorities; he says he is here to cheer on U.S. athletes and to show his "respect" for the Chinese people.
Bush began his first full day in Beijing on Friday morning by helping dedicate the new U.S. Embassy complex. The festive affair featured traditional Chinese drummers and a mini-concert by the Gatlin Brothers, country singers who are longtime friends of the Bush family.
Bush did not back away from the remarks he made in Bangkok but offered his views more gently: He told the audience of U.S. and Chinese dignitaries that "we strongly believe" that societies that allow a "free expression of ideas" tend to be the most peaceful and prosperous. Bush said the two countries have built a constructive, cooperative and candid relationship: "Candor is the most effective where nations have built a relationship of respect and trust."
Bush was joined here by his father, former president George H.W. Bush, who served in 1974 and 1975 as the chief U.S. liaison officer to China. Also in the audience was former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, who brokered the U.S. opening toward China in 1971 and whose approach to diplomacy occasionally frustrated the senior Bush when he served in China, according to the president's recently published diaries. But those tensions seemed forgotten as the 41st president said he was "delighted" to see Kissinger and the 43rd president thanked "Dr K." for his contributions.
The senior Chinese official attending the dedication, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, said the two presidents' presence gave a "very special meaning" to the occasion, and the strong relations between China and the United States "would not have been possible" without the efforts of the two Bushes.
Adopting a similar tone, the two Bushes lavishly praised one another. "I am so very proud of him," the father said in introducing his son.
When it came time for him to speak, George W. Bush said: "This has got to be a historic moment, father and son, two presidents opening an embassy. . . . My dad was a fabulous president."
During his four-day stay here, Bush plans to attend a number of athletic events -- he has said he is looking forward to the U.S.-China basketball game Sunday night -- though he also has meetings planned with senior Chinese leaders and will talk about freedom of religion after he attends church services Sunday.
Bush has also made it clear that he is eager for the U.S. Olympians to rack up a lot of gold at the Games during the next two weeks. "I'm not making any predictions about medal counts," he told the audience at the new embassy, "but I'm telling you the U.S. athletes are ready to come and compete in the spirit of friendship."