U.S. President George Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda say they will both attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing, despite calls from human rights activists to stay away in protest of restrictions on religious freedoms. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, President Bush says such a protest would insult the Chinese people.
President Bush says he is going to the Olympics to cheer on American athletes. But he told reporters in Japan that he will also bring up human rights concerns as he says he has done with both Chinese leaders who have served during his administration.
"Every time I have visited with them, I have talked about religious freedom and human rights. And so therefore my decision to go, I guess, I don't need the Olympics to express my concerns," he said. "I've been doing so."
Human rights activists as well as some Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have urged Mr. Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies in protest of restrictions on religious freedoms and Chinese policy in Sudan, Tibet, and Burma.
These were the president's first public comments on his decision to attend the opening ceremonies since the White House announced the move Friday. They came following talks with the Japanese Prime Minister, who used a joint session with reporters to announce his intention to attend as well.
Prime Minister Fukuda says the Olympics are a sporting event that need not be linked to politics. He says China is on the way to improving things, and it is good for Japan if its neighbor is in a sound state.
Several world leaders have announced they will not attend the games, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. French President Nicholas Sarkozy says his decision will be based on the outcome of talks between Chinese officials and representatives of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will attend the closing ceremony to accept the symbolic torch as the leader of the nation to host the next Summer Games in 2012.
President Bush will meet with the German, French, and British leaders at the annual meeting of the world's leading industrial nations in Japan. He says staying away from the games could make encouraging change in China more difficult.
"I also believe that the Chinese people are watching very carefully about the decisions by world leaders," said Mr. Bush. "I happen to believe not going to the opening ceremony for the games would be an affront to the Chinese people which may make it more difficult to be able to speak frankly with the Chinese leadership. It's why I'm doing what I'm doing."
The president will attend the August 8 opening ceremonies in Beijing as part of a trip that includes stops in South Korea and Thailand.