Thursday, August 7, 2008

President Bush condemns China human rights record on eve of Olympics

President Bush has issued a blunt condemnation of Beijing’s repression of its people on the eve of the Olympics, just as three American Christians were arrested for protesting for religious freedom in Tiananmen Square.With the eyes of the world on China and heads of state from around the globe flying in for the opening ceremony tomorrow, Mr Bush used some of his toughest language yet to press China to improve its record on human rights.Speaking in Bangkok, he said: “America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists. We press for openness and justice – not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.”The remarks were a sharp reminder of the many abuses that are still reported in China, seven years after the promise it gave to the International Olympic Committee when it applied to host the games that it would take the opportunity to improve its record on human rights.China’s 1.3 billion people enjoy far greater personal autonomy, with greater rights to move to other parts of the country, seek jobs nationwide, speak their minds in privately and even in Internet chat forums. However, the limits of those freedoms are starkly portrayed in cases of activists detained, monitored or jailed for challenging the Communist Party leadership or criticising its policies. The latest such example involved a young teacher from southwestern Sichuan province who was ordered to serve one year of “re-education through labour” – a non-judicial punishment that can be imposed by the police – for distributing on the Internet photographs of schools that crumbled in the May earthquake.President Bush, who arrives in Beijing later today, said: “The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings." Beijing has been accused of cracking down even more severely on dissent ahead of the Games rather than grant greater freedoms in line with its original promises.The President said: “We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labour rights not to antagonise China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential."Those remarks are likely to anger China’s leadership, but some Chinese analysts said Beijing would probably give no sign of its irritation when Mr Bush meets his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao. Mr Bush has chided China on human rights before - focusing especially on restrictions on religious freedom - and has drawn the Chinese government's ire by meeting dissidents at the White House ahead of his week-long farewell trip to East Asia.But prominent Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who has been jailed several times for his views and for his role in the 1989 student-led demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, said China’s leaders were likely to take a relatively sanguine approach.“Whatever he says, the Chinese government won’t care too much about the content. The most important thing is that he is attending. Whatever he says is less important," he said.Asked to comment on whether President Bush could have been even more critical during what is almost certainly his last visit to China as president, Mr Liu said: “This is probably as much as he can say since he is coming. He must be taking into account that China is an important country and if you don’t show respect to China at such an occasion, then it will not only not listen but it will spark a backlash.”
By Jane Macartney in Beijing
As in the days of Noah.....

No comments: