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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bush, in Beijing, Faces a Partner Now on the Rise - New York Times

Bush, in Beijing, Faces a Partner Now on the Rise - New York TimesNovember 20, 2005
Bush, in Beijing, Faces a Partner Now on the Rise

BEIJING, Sunday, Nov. 20 - Fresh from another impassioned defense of his war leadership, President Bush arrived here on Saturday evening to defuse a host of tensions with China, even as many in Beijing argue that he will be able to apply little true pressure on the world's fastest-rising power.

Speaking just hours after a raucous debate over Iraq strategy unfolded in the House of Representatives, a defiant-sounding Mr. Bush told cheering American troops at Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, "We will stay in the fight until we have achieved the victory that our brave troops have fought for."

But in a sign of how much Iraq has dominated Mr. Bush's weeklong tour of Asia, he only vaguely alluded to North Korea in his forceful half-hour speech, delivered just 48 miles from the militarized border between the Koreas, where he stopped on his way to Beijing. Nor did he mention the stockpile of suspected nuclear weapons that the North boasts about and that the C.I.A. believes has expanded since the war in Iraq began. China is the key player in Mr. Bush's effort to find a diplomatic way to entice North Korea to give up those weapons.

Mr. Bush arrived in Beijing amid evidence that China has little intention of giving up the currency controls that Mr. Bush has said fuel the country's trade surplus, or of curtailing its crackdown on the media and on academic and religious freedoms.

Officials said Mr. Bush planned to raise all those issues with Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader, on Sunday at a meeting and a dinner at the Great Hall of the People, just off Tiananmen Square. He also underscored his concerns about China's crackdown on religion by attending a service early Sunday at the Gangwashi Church, one of the few state-approved and state-monitored congregations in the country.

That visit was a highly symbolic one: His huge motorcade - more than 50 cars - took him to the church, off an alley near Tiananmen Square. He took part in a traditional Protestant service and signed the guest book with the words, "May God bless the Christians of China."

The church was carefully selected - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went there earlier this year - and emerging from it, Mr. Bush chose his words carefully. "You know, 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. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths and gives people a chance to express themselves through worship with the Almighty."

"I think we're at a turning point where most of those in power realize it is not in the American interest to try to contain China," said Yan Xuetong, a foreign policy expert at Tsinghua University in Beijing. "They may not like to see China rise, but there is nothing they can do to stop it."

White House officials on the trip say that the Chinese government rejected the idea of a joint news conference for the two leaders, eliminating any chance that Mr. Hu would have to answer questions about the pace of democratization.

In a measure of the wariness felt by the Chinese, the government said that it could only guarantee television coverage for Mr. Bush's visit when he goes bicycling with Olympic athletes on Sunday.

Aboard Air Force One, Michael Green, head of Asian affairs for the National Security Council, said Saturday, "We've made it clear to our Chinese hosts that the president's message is one that is positive about U.S.-China relations and should be heard by all Chinese citizens - just as when President Hu comes to the United States, his message is heard in full by the American people."

The state-controlled media in China ignored Mr. Bush's speech in Kyoto, Japan, on Wednesday, in which he cited Taiwan's democracy as a model for the mainland and argued that China was discovering "that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed."

That critique was relatively muted compared to the days when Mr. Bush spoke of China as a "strategic competitor." Officials from both countries now describe relations as stable, even warm, arguing that the two powers now manage their differences pragmatically. Mr. Bush and Mr. Hu appear at least temporarily in sync on how to handle Taiwan and North Korea, Bush administration officials and Chinese analysts said.

"I think the president has an optimistic view about how China is moving," Mr. Green said last week.

If so, that may be in part because an ebbing debate within the Bush administration about whether the United States should try to contain China's economic and military reach.

Foreign policy experts in China argue that even some neoconservatives in the administration, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have come to accept China's rising economic and political influence as a fact that the United States must learn to manage rather than openly challenge.

Senior policy aides in the Bush administration also say the differences between the countries seem easier to address now than at any time in Mr. Bush's presidency. But officials caution that festering economic and political tensions could still severely strain bilateral ties.

In what appeared to be an effort to calm economic anxieties, the Chinese have agreed to purchase 70 Boeing 737 airliners, Mr. Green said as Mr. Bush arrived in Beijing on Saturday evening. Neither the Boeing Company nor the Chinese government made a formal announcement of the deal, however, and similar promises have been made during other presidential visits, only to be altered after the visit.

Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, tried to quell expectations for the trip by declaring in Washington last week that Mr. Bush sought no "deliverables" to bring home, a phrase that apparently embraced both diplomatic and economic achievements, including an accord for China to let its currency float more quickly.

He is unlikely to get any: in the days before Mr. Bush arrived, the Chinese police detained or arrested religious leaders. There is no sign that Beijing intends to release anyone on the list of human rights cases Mr. Bush gave to Mr. Hu in September, when they met in New York.

Although Mr. Bush said in Kyoto that market-oriented economic policies would eventually lead to political freedoms in China, the country has moved in the opposite direction under Mr. Hu. Since taking control of the Communist Party in late 2002, he has jailed journalists, rights activists and lawyers, and put tighter controls on the news media and on many outspoken intellectuals.

Human rights groups and others devoted to the rule of law, environmental awareness and other causes have been harassed or shut down.

Chinese dissidents fear that the situation will only get worse after Mr. Bush's trip, when the leadership feels less pressure.

"I think Bush said the right things, but I'm not sure how forceful he will be when he meets Hu Jintao face to face," said Liu Xiaobo, a longtime government critic whose home was put under guard this week in anticipation of Mr. Bush's arrival.

Another source of tension is China's currency policy. Under heavy American pressure, China dropped a fixed peg between its currency, the yuan, and the dollar in July. But it allows only minuscule daily swings in the currency values, far less than the administration says is necessary to correct a growing trade imbalance.

Chinese officials argue that manufacturers have paper-thin profit margins in a competitive export environment. Officials fear that anything other than incremental currency moves could threaten stability.

More broadly, Mr. Bush plans to discuss a new framework for thinking about China, stressing that it has become a major "stakeholder" in the international system and needs to take greater responsibility for fighting terrorism, stopping nuclear weapons proliferation and improving human rights in China and abroad, an administration official said.

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