President George W. Bush's official visit to China begins on Sunday morning in a state-run church in Beijing before he emphasizes religious freedom.
The President, who arrived in Beijing Sat. evening for a three-day visit, hoped to send a message to China and its people that faith is good for the nation, a White House spokesman said.
"It's Sunday, so the President will want to worship. But it's also important that the world see and that the Chinese people see that expression of faith is a good thing for a healthy and mature society," Mike Green, the President's assistant for the National Security Agency said.
In China, Bush will highlight to top officials that granting more freedoms to its people by giving more opportunities to worship, to speak freely, and to exercise other rights can strengthen Chinese society, Green added. And since China's economy is growing rapidly, the President feels China should "form a civil society with non-governmental organizations."
The Gangwashi Church where Bush will attend the Sunday service is one of five officially recognized Protestant churches in Beijing.
Despite criticisms of state-run churches, Green said that they "really do worship," and "the parishioners are real people of faith who are congregating to express that faith."
Recently, a spokesman for China’'s Foreign Ministry said that China has made "remarkable achievements in improving human rights," and that they "fully enjoy" the "freedom of religious belief."
However, according to a recent report released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, it said that "Chinese law and policy restrict religious activities to those associated with the five officially-sanctioned 'patriotic' religious organizations." Meanwhile, the report added that the "unregistered" religious groups are subject to "harassment, detention, and arrest."
Bush's visit in China will focus on improving U.S-China relations by discussing the concerns of each side and clarifying where the two nations stand on the issues.
Green said, "The message for the Chinese government is the same message the President has given President Hu before, which is that allowing all Chinese citizens to give full and free expression of their faith is something that's not a threat to the state."
It "makes for a stronger and more mature and stable society, which, ultimately, really should be in Chinese interest and consistent with President Hu's own vision for China's future," he added.