World

Bush criticizes China before visit to Beijing Olympics

U.S. President George W. Bush delivered a strong condemnation of China's approach toward the freedom and rights of its citizens Thursday in a speech on the eve of a visit to the Olympic host.

U.S. President George W. Bush delivered a strong condemnation of China's approach toward the freedom and rights of its citizens Thursday in a speech on the eve of a visit to the host of the 2008 Olympic Games.

In Thailand as part of a three-country tour through Asia, Bush said his country supports a free press, free assembly and labour rights, and that China must follow that example if it hopes to prosper.

"America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists," Bush said in Bangkok.

"We press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs."

About 25 supporters greeted the U.S. president outside the convention centre where he spoke. Others handed out leaflets saying "George Bush is a war criminal."

Bush also gave China credit for its market reforms and predicted that change is inevitable — though he said it will come of its own accord and in line with Chinese traditions and history.

Bush was to spend some of Thursday meeting Burmese activists and getting updates on Burma, also known as Myanmar, where many citizens are still recovering from the effects of a deadly cyclone in May. More than 84,000 people were killed by Cyclone Nargis, however, Burma's reclusive and oppressive military government repeatedly refused offers of help from the U.S. military, as well as some international relief organizations and workers.

The U.S. president will then head straight to the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Bush has said the sporting event is not the right occasion for pushing a U.S. political agenda, and he is visiting as a sports fan.

Bush apparently made no public comment about a former U.S. Olympic speed skater who was denied a visa to China on Wednesday.

Chinese authorities reportedly revoked 2006 American gold medallist Joey Cheek's visa the day before he was supposed to arrive in China to urge the country to help make peace in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan.

Cheek, the president and co-founder of a collection of Olympic athletes called Team Darfur, said Chinese authorities told him they were "not required to give him a reason" why his entry was denied.

Bush also made a visit to Seoul during his tour of Asia.

With files from the Associated Press