President Bush released a statement expressing "concern" for continued "lack of respect for international recognized human rights in China" yesterday, the first anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The president's statement came several hours after Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) criticized the White House for its silence on the anniversary of the crackdown on the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who had taken over the square to press for democratic reforms in China.
Mitchell has been a leading critic of Bush's China policy since the massacre, sharply attacking the administration's decision to send secret emissaries there and its decision last month to renew most-favored-nation trading status for China.
Bush's five-paragraph statement yesterday was in keeping with his reluctance to issue strongly worded condemnations of Beijing for the bloody crackdown. An official described it as an effort to look forward toward improved conditions in China, rather than "dwelling on what happened a year ago."
In the statement, the president quoted his own words of a year ago in which he deplored the Chinese decision to use force. "America will always stand with those who seek greater freedom and democracy," he said. "This is the strongly felt view of my administration, of our Congress and . . . of the American people."
Before Bush issued his statement, Mitchell denounced what he described as administration "silence" on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and accused the president of "doing what the Chinese government wants done" by continuing trade preferences for Beijing.
Twelve years ago, as he was launching his first presidential campaign, Bush accused the administration of President Jimmy Carter of having "given all and gained nothing" in normalizing relations with China, Mitchell said, adding that "President Bush has obviously forgotten his own words."
"The rulers of China are hoping the world will forget what happened 12 months ago," Mitchell said. "And President Bush, by renewing most-favored-nation trading status for China, is doing what the Chinese government wants done. That is a mistake. It is doubly tragic for Americans that the silence of the Chinese regime on this anniversary date is echoed in our own country, by our own president."
Mitchell said he planned to meet with senators returning from the Memorial Day break before determining how to proceed with a congressional resolution of disapproval of most-favored-nation trade status for China.
In his statement, Bush said transforming China's historically authoritarian political system to a more democratic one would be a "monumental task." Noting the "great strides" China made in the 10 years between 1978 and 1988, the president said the improvements in U.S.-China relations then were "testimony" to that progress. "I remain deeply concerned by the lack of respect for internationally recognized human rights in China today and urge a rapid return to the more positive course set before Tiananmen occurred," he said.
Bush said the world will continue to watch China "with the hope China will turn decisively away from repression and toward the path of reform." When that occurs, he said, "The American people and government, who value good relations with the Chinese people and government, stand ready to develop this relationship."