A Texas-based religious persecution monitor group expressed hopes that Bush would put religious freedom the first priority in his discussions with the Chinese president, whom is scheduled to visit the White House on April 20.
"This is really the best opportunity for President Bush to make it clear that his freedom agenda will include China – not only for Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Middle Eastern countries, but also for the last stronghold of Communism," said Rev. Bob Fu, president of China Aid Association (CAA).
Bush, last Wednesday, said that he would press Chinese President Hu Jintao to allow greater religious and political freedom in China, during a speech to Freedom House, an independent pro-democracy group.
"Nor do I hesitate to talk about the concerns of the (Roman) Catholic Church. I'm anxious to talk to him (Hu) about the evangelicals’ concerns inside of China, reminding him that a whole society is one that’s just more than open markets," Bush continued, in his speech to Freedom House, an independent pro-democracy group in the U.S. capital.
"We know the heart of the president. He is passionate on this issue," Fu commented. "However, because of the huge interest in trade and business (with China), and the nuclear bomb situation in North Korea, I think religious freedom issues are being overshadowed (in China)."
Fu added that improving religious freedom in China is "not on the higher agenda that many people claim it to be."
According to a conversation he had with a US congressman, Fu stated, the United States is more than capable of issuing legislation that would influence China to improve its religious freedom.
"However, the insider said big businesses that have influence in Congress, and are making great profit in China, have the incentive to bring down those bills," he added. Fu declined to reveal the identity of his source, but said the individual often showed "concern for religious freedom in China."
March 8, the US State Department issued a report that China’s religious freedom record remained poor. The report listed events of religious persecution including the imprisonment of house church pastor, Cai Zhuohua, who was arrested for printing Bibles.
A practicing pastor and devout Christian, Fu still hopes that Bush would not only address the religious freedom of "house church groups and underground Catholics, but other (groups) like Tibetan Buddhists whom are also subject to arrests and imprisonment."
"We are not willing to look at (any) religion under the direct control of an atheistic ideology," Fu said in reference to the government’s religious registration policy. "It is really the matter of allowing the freedom of conscience and practice for one’s own religion."
Fu stated, nonetheless, that he looks forward to seeing the results of Bush’s discussion with President Hu.
"Compared to presidents of past administrations, the current president did make some clear points both public and private to the Chinese leaders that he personally cares for the issue of religious freedom," emphasized Fu.
He concluded, "It should be stressed that both American businessmen who are making profits in China, and the US president, can do much more to address this issue and make a difference."