U.S. President George Bush has arrived in Beijing for the Olympic Games and meetings with his Chinese counterpart. Mr. Bush has promised to raise human rights concerns with the Chinese president after several Americans were deported from China for protesting. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
The U.S. president touched down in Beijing late Thursday night, just one day ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony, which he plans to attend.
Mr. Bush arrived in the Chinese capital after a speech in Thailand where he had strong words about China's human rights record.
"The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings. So America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, and human rights advocates, and religious activists," he said.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang issued a statement defending China's record. He said the Chinese government is devoted to safeguarding and improving basic rights and freedoms. He added the Chinese people enjoy freedom of religion according to the law.
Earlier Thursday, police at Beijing's Tiananmen Square detained three American Christians who were protesting against the Chinese government.
Brandi Swindell, the national director of Generation Life, was one of the American demonstrators who spoke to reporters during the protest.
"I came to China specifically to be a voice for the persecuted people here in China. Christians, practitioners of the Falun Gong, Tibetan monks, anybody who is persecuted because of their faith and their belief systems. Also to stand in solidarity, specifically with the women whose babies are forcibly aborted," he said.
The Chinese government is often criticized for its strict controls on religion and childbirth. Believers are forced to go to monitored places of worship or face persecution for praying at unregistered places, usually private houses.
The Communist Party fears any organized groups inside China that are outside its control and outlawed the Falun Gong spiritual movement after it became too popular.
Most couples in China are only allowed to have one child and officials have been known to brutally enforce the rule.
Nonetheless, Mr. Bush said he was optimistic that China's human rights situation would improve.
"Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and its own traditions. Yet change will arrive. And it will be clear for all to see that those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China. They are the people who will make China a great nation in the 21st century," he said.
China also revoked a visa for U.S. speed skating champion Joey Cheek hours before he was to leave for Beijing. Cheek has openly criticized Beijing's support of the Sudanese government and was planning to demonstrate on the issue.
Mr. Bush is expected to raise the issue when he meets Sunday with Chinese President Hu Jintao. On Friday he will open the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing before attending the Olympic opening ceremony in the evening.