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China Rebuffs Criticisms As Bush Arrives in Beijing

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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

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By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008; 8:43 AM

BEIJING, Aug. 8 -- President Bush greeted American Olympians here on the eve of the opening ceremonies, telling them they represent "the finest nation on the face of the Earth" and urging them to "win as many golds as you possibly can."

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"Laura and I and a lot of our family are here to cheer you on," Bush told the athletes gathered in the Fencing Hall. "We're just a handful of a lot of folks who care about you a lot. There are going to be a lot of people pulling for you."

Bush arrived here Thursday night to a fresh blast from the Chinese authorities over his rebuke of their human rights practices.

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.

On his first full day in Beijing on Friday morning, Bush helped dedicate a new U.S. Embassy complex and attended a luncheon for some 80 world leaders hosted by Chinese president Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People.

The embassy dedication was a festive affair featuring 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 in remarks to an audience of U.S. and Chinese dignitaries gathered at the massive complex.

"(We) continue to be candid about our belief that all people should have the freedom to say what they think and worship as they choose," he said. "We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful."

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.

Even before meeting with the Olympians, Bush 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."


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