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President Bush Expresses Concerns over Religious Freedom in China

President Bush urged China on Sunday to expand religious, political and social freedoms after making his first public appearance in China at a worship service at one of five officially recognized Prot
( [email protected] ) Nov 23, 2005 09:32 AM EST

President Bush urged China on Sunday to expand religious, political and social freedoms after making his first public appearance in China at a worship service at one of five officially recognized Protestant churches in Beijing.

"I felt like the church service was an affirmation of my strong belief that people should be able to worship freely," Bush told reporters Saturday evening, "and I shared that with President [Hu Jintao]."

According to Bush, the two leaders discussed a variety of concerns, including fairer treatment of non-governmental charity organizations that operate in China and the condition of the dissidents and people who want to express themselves. The president also brought to attention a U.S. request in September for action on specific human rights cases, which he described directly as "a list of dissidents that we believe are improperly imprisoned."

"I'm always concerned about somebody who is trying to express themselves in the public square, express their opinion, being cracked down by a state," Bush told reporters Sunday evening.

According to the Associated Press, a Chinese crackdown on dissidents before Bush arrived dismayed U.S. officials, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. side would continue to raise the issue "quite vociferously with the Chinese government."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of State released its annual report on international religious freedom, which found that the Government's respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor.

"We've certainly not seen the progress that we would expect," Rice said, according to AP.

In his first public appearance, even before the welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, the president attended a service at the state-sanctioned Gangwashi Church to "set a framework for his discussions then about religious freedom and human rights with his Chinese counterparts," Rice told reporters during a press conference on Sunday.

"He had an extensive discussion of this issue," the secretary of state said, "particularly with President Hu Jintao, but also talked about these issues with Premier Wen."

When asked why he chose to talk more about the need for greater religious freedoms in China than the need for greater political freedom, Bush told reporters, "they go hand-in-hand."

"A society which recognizes religious freedom is a society which will recognize political freedoms, as well," said Bush.

After the hourlong service at Gangwashi Church, the president told reporters, "It wasn't all that long ago that people were not allowed to worship openly in this society."

"My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly," Bush said outside of the church. "A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths."

On Sunday, Bush also met with evangelist Luis Palau who was invited to speak at a conference earlier in Beijing called "Hand in Hand in Charity," which focused on charitable activities and opportunities in China.

"Dr. Luis Palau was with me," Bush told reporters, "and we spent time in the limousine on the way to the church talking about his views of Christianity here in China. He believes there are about a hundred million Christians, and that they are - they're worshiping in a way that is able to call upon the Almighty to help them through their lives. And that's the spirit I found in the church."

During his talk with Hu, Bush also suggested that the Chinese invite Roman Catholic leaders from the Vatican to China to discuss religious freedom.