Chinese Christian activists, who met with Bush on Thursday, expressed their gratitude for the U.S. president’s determination to champion for religious freedom in China.
President George W. Bush met with three high-profile activists – Yu Jie, Dr. Li Baiguang, and Wang Yi – at his White House residency for a private conference.
"The president of the United States represents the whole American people. That really means that the freedom-loving American people will stay affirmed for the fight for religious freedom to be improved in China," said Bob Fu, president of China Aid, which often championed for religious freedom.
Fu added that the meeting represents new a "joint-effort" with Bush to improve human rights and religious freedom for the nation of 1.4 billion.
George W. Bush, a born-again Christian, vowed to continue discussing religious freedom in China whenever the opportunity arises.
In recent days, China has been accused of violating religious freedom by the Vatican over allegations that Beijing had coerced Catholic leaders to bless the consecration of 2 bishops without the papal permission.
Beijing has come under increasing public pressure to improve its human rights and religious freedom stance, especially in light of the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympic in the city of nearly 15 million.
"We would like to have Bush as a messenger to push forward religious freedom in China," said Dr. Li Baiguang, who has been imprisoned three times and was the first legal representative for peasants’, protesting against government land-seizures.
Li Baiguang and, prominent activist-writer, Wang Yi and Yu Jie, also shared with Bush recent activities for human rights and religious freedom in China.
"Besides this, we think the Chinese brothers and sisters in China…should study law and use their rights to protect religious freedom," said Dr. Li, who explained that he will continue giving legal advice to those persecuted by the Chinese government.
"Before, the persecuted house church…could only pray for the ones who persecuted them, not knowing what else they can do. Now, we will teach them to use the law as a defense to protect themselves," Li told the Gospel Herald.
Dr. Li also added that "we would like to (also) take legal action to get the right for prisoners to attend service," as "jailed Christians cannot attend service" due to laws effective since the Communist takeover of China in 1949.
Bush joined hands with the guests for prayer with the Chinese guests, alongside members of the cabinet including Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before the meeting ended.
Dr. Li also complimented Bush for his spirituality, saying that Bush and the American government had a deep "understanding for the importance of religion."
"Before Bush was not Christian, and he got in the habit of drinking. When he believed (in God), God changed him," said Dr. Li, who added that Bush showed genuine concern for the Christian situation in China.
Bush has often raised concerns for religious freedom in China in the past, including during his visit to Beijing in November and during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the White House in April.
Christians in China are only allowed to worship in state-monitored churches. The state-controlled churches claim a membership of 11 million protestants, which contradicts other estimates that place the number at 40-70 million.
Those worshipping at "underground" house churches or "jiating jiao hui" are often subjected to arrests, heavy fines, and imprisonment by government authorities.
Bob Fu said that the meeting with Bush was "certainly…a spiritual encouragement to persecuted brothers and the sisters in China."
[Editor's note: Eunice Or has contributed in this article.]