China tells Bush to stay out of other countries' affairs

Chinese officials have told U.S. President George W. Bush to stay out of other countries' affairs after he condemned Beijing's human rights record before heading to the Olympic Games.

Chinese officials have told U.S. President George W. Bush to stay out of other countries' affairs after he condemned Beijing's human rights record before heading to the Olympic Games.

U.S. President George W. Bush delivers a speech at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok on Thursday ahead of his visit to Beijing. ((Gerald Herbert/Associated Press))

"We resolutely oppose any words or actions which interfere in the internal affairs of another country in the name of issues such as human rights and religion," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday in a statement on its website that was translated by the Associated Press.

The statement was published hours after Bush criticized China's approach to freedom and rights of citizens in a speech in Thailand during a three-country tour of Asia before heading to China for Friday's Olympic opening ceremonies.

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

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

China 'puts people first'

Bush said he wasn't trying to antagonize China, but called for free press, free assembly and labour rights in China as the only path the U.S. rival can take to reach its full potential.

But China seemed irritated by the comments on the eve of the international sporting event.

"The Chinese government puts people first, and is dedicated to maintaining and promoting its citizens' basic rights and freedom," Qin said in a statement. "Chinese citizens have freedom of religion. These are indisputable facts."

Qin said there are divergences between China and U.S., but noted that it is in the common interest of both countries to have a good relationship, and advocated talks on the differing views.

Leading up to the Olympics from Aug. 8 to 24, Bush has been walking a tightrope, trying to avoid causing China embarrassment for its time in the world limelight, but coming under pressure to use his visit to press China for greater religious tolerance and other freedoms.

Tries to address 2 polar issues

Bush's speech praised China for market reforms, saying change in the country "will arrive on its own terms, and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions."

"With this speech, Bush is trying to address two polar issues: easing the controversy created by those who oppose his visit during the Games and simultaneously maintaining America's strategy with China," said Yan Xuetong, an expert in U.S.-China relations at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University.

Bush, who arrived in Beijing Thursday night, has said the Games are not the right occasion to push a U.S. political agenda, and he is visiting as a sports fan. He plans to attend the opening ceremony and several sporting events.

Ahead of the Games, China has rounded up opponents and imposed restrictions on journalists, despite promises to the contrary when it landed the Olympics.

Bush is reportedly the first U.S. president to attend the Olympics on foreign soil.

The president, first lady Laura Bush and their daughter Barbara came off Air Force One together and had a red-carpet greeting from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and others.

Dedication ceremony

However, several hours later Bush seemed to offer China the olive branch during a dedication ceremony for the U.S.'s new $434 million US embassy in Beijing, calling it a symbol of their burgeoning bond.

Bush said the eight-story structure, which is the second-largest U.S. embassy in the world after its diplomatic office in Baghdad, represented the "solid foundation underpinning" relations between the two countries.

"To me it speaks of the importance of our relations with China," Bush said. Both his father, former president George H.W. Bush, and former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger were in attendance for the ceremony on Friday morning in China.

China unveiled its own foreign embassy — the biggest in the U.S. — in Washington, D.C. last week.

With files from the Associated Press